Should your business implement a mandatory vaccine passport?

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Vaccine passports could be in widespread operation by the end of September and will be needed when partaking in some recreational and social activities.

Businessman and hospitality expert Bradley Gough has been vocal about the impacts that vaccine passports might have for businesses using them.

He founded Groubook – a new app that’s changing the way people go out, but had his business plans interrupted somewhat by the pandemic. Groubook was launched in Nottingham in August just after the first lockdown restrictions began to ease and saw rapid initial take-up with numbers growing by 250% in the first six weeks. Bradley believes the app can give independent bars and restaurants a head start now they are open for business.

Throughout the pandemic, Bradley and his team have been frustrated with the help available to the leisure and hospitality industry. Now that venues are back open with little guidance, he is frustrated with the government’s plan to introduce passports for those getting back out and about.

What is a vaccine passport?

Almost everyone will be familiar with the concept of them by now, but a vaccine passport is essentially a way for someone to prove they’ve received both doses of the coronavirus jab. As a result, they can prove their status against COVID when gaining entry to large events.

There are lots of arguments about this currently, with many different viewpoints and situations to consider. It is a massive decision to make as a business owner and it raises lots of different issues.

Demanding customers to present proof of vaccination in the form of a QR code, slip of paper or alternative way of confirming their vaccination status, is likely to cause a lot of tension. It may cause upset for patrons, cause issues for front of house or door staff and potentially disrupt almost every aspect of a hospitality business.

Could they help?

Whilst the vaccine will dampen the symptoms and the seriousness of the side effects, it will still leave carriers of COVID open to passing the virus on.

Some, but not all, of the passes are debating incorporating a testing element. This will allow the vaccinated to prove their negative status and to minimise discrimination against those who have not been, or cannot be, vaccinated.

The idea of passports for proof of vaccination has faced lots of backlashes, with much of the public being split one way or another. What seems ludicrous to most is that they are only being implemented at the end of September, when most venues will have already been open for the best part of two months by then. It seems like a massive step back from so-called ‘Freedom Day’.

Targeting the nightlife and hospitality will predominantly affect those that are relatively young and healthy, which is also the last age group to have been offered the chance to take their vaccination.

A lot of unvaccinated people, either through choice or due to existing health conditions, will end up feeling discriminated against, resulting in alienation from their social life and some of their favourite activities.

Key issues

A lot of people are arguing that vaccine passports will be a viable solution to encourage more people out into public spaces again. It would also allow more businesses to remain open, with fewer incidents of isolation, by making sure that restaurants, bars, and nightclubs don’t become Covid hotspots.

However, the scannable online generated or printed paper codes will raise a lot of technical, ethical, and legal questions. Some customers will be happy for the freedom, whilst others may be less willing to use the app, abuse the app or potentially find loopholes in the system.

Some groups of society have a greater mistrust for the vaccine, meaning that they have declined, or haven’t made their mind up about the vaccine.

I cannot see many hospitality businesses wanting to implement the vaccine passport at all. Our industry has been at the forefront of economic uncertainty and Covid struggles over the last sixteen months.

Enforcing and checking passports isn’t the industries responsibility, will undoubtedly require more staff on shift and will drive a wedge between customers who haven’t had any dose of the vaccine, those that have had one and those double jabbed. Working in and being a part of hospitality will always remain an inclusive environment. The health status of customers is none of our concern, but it is the government’s responsibility.

Passing on group responsibility for the aftermath of the pandemic to businesses, venues, and individuals was a bad move. It isn’t fair to everyone working hard day in day out to ensure events, club nights, activities and fun times happen. Unfortunately, I can see that people’s enjoyment of being back out will be used as a scapegoat in a few months, particularly if cases continue to rise.

Looking ahead

The end of the pandemic still seems to be out there on the horizon, as being double jabbed is not a completely effective way to stop spreading the virus. Having both doses does not stop you from getting coronavirus or stop you from spreading it. It can massively reduce levels of infection and seriousness of the case, resulting in fewer fatal cases which may require hospitalisation.

Interestingly, many people have already faced administrative issues when trying to get their Covid passports ready to show. Some vaccinations hadn’t been recorded properly, despite both doses being received.

People who haven’t had the full vaccine, either through choice, lack of availability, or those waiting for their second dose will still want to go out and get together with friends and family. The industry shouldn’t be strong-armed into enforcing it when the likes of retail haven’t.

The covid passport debate is complex for sure. It is also one that will cause a varying degree of differing opinions, treading the line between unity, utility, and freedom. For now, it still seems like an unthought-through idea from officially scrambling to pass something through after realising the seriousness of opening the whole country back up.

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