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Govt considers introducing Covid-19 passports

Limpho Sello

THE government is contemplating introducing Covid-19 passports under which its various departments as well as private organisations will only provide services to people who have been fully vaccinated.

This was said by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro in a televised address on the Covid-19 situation in the country over the weekend. He also announced relaxations to the lockdown including the opening up of the country’s borders to allow international travel.

Covid-19 passports are digital or paper documents that show that a person has been vaccinated against the virus. They could help the holders to get into other countries and places where proof that one has been vaccinated is required.

Dr Majoro said the passports would help protect the nation against the deadly pandemic which had by yesterday infected a cumulative total of 14 395 people and resulted in 403 deaths.

However, the plans to introduce passports have been criticised by some lawyers who argued that they could lead to discrimination against those who refuse to be vaccinated. The lawyers also argue that they could lead to violations of the freedom of movement and the right to choose whether or not to be vaccinated.

Commenting on the plans to introduce the Covid-19 passports, Dr Majoro said, “this will be done to ensure that we can remove restrictions to allow the smooth running of some businesses because there will be an assurance that all the people in that particular business have been vaccinated”.

“But this is an issue that is still to be polished, so we will come back at a later stage to map the way forward,” he added.

He said although they were contemplating introducing the Covid-19 passports, they were aware that some unscrupulous people had begun producing fake Covid-19 certificates. He said they would strengthen their monitoring systems to guard against the fake certificates.

He added that although they eased the lockdown restrictions, some activities like public protests, demonstrations, picketing, initiation ceremonies and nightclubbing remained banned.

He said such activities would be prohibited until most people have been vaccinated and were in possession of Covid-19 passports.

“Fellow Basotho, there are some activities which cabinet has decided should remain banned. These include going to parks, initiation schools, nightclubs and industrial actions.

“These activities will remain banned but if our Covid-19 situation improves and most people are vaccinated, they are likely to be allowed. There is also a possibility that all these activities can be allowed on condition that everyone providing services in those areas is vaccinated. But we will need verification of the Covid-19 passports to ensure that people do not use fake passports.

“We will come back in two or three weeks’ time to map the way forward on how the Covid-19 passports will be used in future,” Dr Majoro said.

However, some lawyers who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity for professional reasons, criticised the plans.

“This will lead to discrimination against those who exercise their right to refuse to be vaccinated,” said one lawyer.

Another lawyer concurred, saying the introduction of the passports “will impact negatively on people’s freedom of movement and their right to choose whether or not to be vaccinated”.

However, Dr Majoro’s press attaché, Buta Moseme, said the criticism was unjustified as the government had not made a binding decision on the issue. He said at this stage the government was only bringing up the issue for public debate.

“The government is only asking the nation to think about this issue. It is the nation and not the government that will eventually decide whether the Covid-19 passports should be introduced,” Mr Moseme said in an interview with the Sunday Express yesterday.

The introduction of Covid-19 passports has become a thorny issue around the world with lawyers, politicians, human rights activists and even ordinary people slamming them as a violation of freedoms of movement and of choosing whether or not to vaccinate.

Fellow SADC country, Zimbabwe, has torched a storm after its Justice minister, Ziyambi Ziyambi, recently called on civil servants who do not want to be vaccinated against Covid-19 to resign.

Mr Ziyambi said while Zimbabweans would not be forced to get vaccinated, those in the public service had a responsibility to protect the public by getting jabbed.

He however, hinted at punitive measures against government employees who refuse the vaccine.

“We are not forcing you to be vaccinated but if you are a government employee, for the protection of others and the people that you are serving, get vaccinated.

“There will come a time when we will not want any teacher who is not vaccinated.

“If you want to enjoy your rights, which are in the constitution, you can resign,” Mr Ziyambi said in an interview with a local radio station last week.

Last week, the British government had to cancel plans to introduce vaccine passports for access into nightclubs and large events in England.

Under the scheme, people would have been required to show proof of being fully vaccinated, a negative Covid-19 test or of having completed self-isolation after a positive PCR test in order to gain entry to clubs and other crowded events.

Speaking to the BBC on the shelving of the Covid19 passports plans, Sajid Javid, the British Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said “we shouldn’t be doing things for the sake of it”.

This represented a major climbdown from Vaccines Minister, Nadhim Zahawi’s earlier stance that the passports scheme was the “best way” to keep the nightclubs open. Mr Zahawi had said the end of September 2021 was the right time to start the vaccine passport scheme for sites with large crowds because all over-18s would have been offered two jabs by then.

However, the plan came under criticism from nightclubs and some legislators.

The Night Time Industries Association had said the plans could have crippled the industry and led to nightclubs facing discrimination cases.

Some MPs described the plans as “divisive, unworkable and expensive”.

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