Will Covid-19 passports become mandatory at retail stores?

Dylan Brown
by Dylan Brown

As the world continues to roll out COVID-19 vaccination programs, many countries are eagerly exploring new ways to enable the safe movement or circulation of people who have received the vaccine or who can prove they don’t have the virus.

Mobile apps, passports, digital cards and paperwork are some of the many ideas that have floated about, but many have voiced their concerns around privacy, security and discrimination.

From a retailer’s perspective, a COVID-19 passport program would mean a customer host at every store entrance (or an automated digital system) checking for proof that customers have evidence that they’ve received a vaccination, recently recovered from the virus or have tested negative.

Israel has launched a “Green Pass” mobile app

Israel has rolled out its “Green Pass” mobile app, which is being used for consumers to access venues including restaurants and cafes, hotels, retail stores, theatres, events, sports venues and gyms.

UK politician, Michael Gove, is currently touring Israel to see if the scheme would be suitable for vaccine passports in England. This scheme and others will soon become widespread across other countries, says Mr Gove.

On a percentage basis, Israel is the only country that has vaccinated more people than the UK. In a Sunday Telegraph article on Easter Sunday, Mr Gove wrote:

“The Israeli approach involves a smartphone app and the NHS app could serve a similar purpose here.”

“But we must not exclude those who do not have a smartphone, so we’re exploring paper-based complements to the app. Privacy and data security must be watertight.”

Will the UK introduce a COVID-19 passport?

UK consumers have recently taken to the high street to make up for months of little to zero shopping time – it has been labelled by some as “revenge purchases”.

Speaking on the reopening of stores, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “There is absolutely no question of people being asked to produce a certification or a Covid status report when they go to the shops or to the pub garden or to the hairdressers or whatever on Monday. And indeed, we’re not planning that for step three, either.”

But this could change at a later date, with businesses and retailers being forced to ask customers for proof of their Covid-19 status. And, in the past, the PM has suggested pub-goers could be asked to provide a vaccine certificate after the vaccination rollout finishes in July.

Currently, those who have received the vaccination receive a card, and it is documented on their medical records, but the government is investigating “temporary ways” to allow people to more easily show their vaccination status, which would apply to those who have been vaccinated, recently tested negative or have recently recovered from Covid-19.

There is also talk of linking coronavirus paperwork directly with passports, The Times has reported, with the government supposedly planning to reestablish the automated e-passport gates at airports next month.

More than 70 MPs have rallied against the idea of COVID-19 passports, the BBC reported, with some claiming proof of a jab or test to access jobs or services is “dangerous, discriminatory and counterproductive”.

In addition, hundreds of UK church leaders have written an open letter to Boris Johnson critiquing the use use of vaccine passports for entry into venues, saying it has the “potential to bring about the end of liberal democracy as we know it”.

Will USA introduce a COVID-19 passport?

The White House has dismissed the idea of a mandatory Covid-19 vaccination passports, claiming the privacy and rights of its citizens should be protected.

White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, added that there would be no “federal vaccinations database” or a “federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential”.

“The government is not now, nor will be, supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential,” she said. “Our interest is very simple from the federal government, which is Americans’ privacy and rights should be protected, and so that these systems are not used against people unfairly.”

That being said, tech companies, nonprofits and state agencies are all competing to create digital vaccine certificates to prove people have been vaccinated for COVID-19.

But that doesn’t mean the White House won’t have a say in the end product. Tech companies and others working to design future digital vaccine cards will rely on the Biden administration to provide federal support for privacy and security concerns.

According to the Wall Street Journal, there could be high demand from businesses and retailers for digital proof of vaccination when entering their premises.

Madison Square Garden, for instance, is currently testing the Excelsior Pass, which uses IBM technology to prove customers have had the vaccine, while retail chain Walmart said that customers who’ve been vaccinated at thousands of its stores will get a digital vaccine card.

While everything is still up in the air, it seems likely that being able to prove you’ve received the vaccine or aren’t carrying the virus will become yet another step in the retail customer journey in the months to come…but how will consumers feel about it, and will it encourage discrimination? We’re running a poll on LinkedIn at the moment around the ethics of COVID-19 passports – we’d love to get your thoughts!

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