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Europe's tourist industry has taken a beating during this pandemic, spurring Denmark to introduce vaccine passports as a way to boost travel. The digital documents will provide proof of a traveler’s COVID-related health, eliminating the need to quarantine upon arrival in a new country. But opponents fear this could create billions of second-class citizens. Malcolm Brabant reports.
Europe's tourist industry has taken a beating during this pandemic.
And, as one way to boost travel, Denmark is set to introduce vaccine passports. The digital documents provide proof of a traveler's COVID-related health, eliminating the need to quarantine upon arrival in a new country. Opponents fear that this could create billions of second-class citizens.
Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.
London's Gatwick Airport has been little more than a giant jet parking lot since COVID struck. It symbolizes how we have all been imprisoned by the coronavirus.
Governments across the world hope vaccinations will liberate their citizens and economies. The British government is backing research by a company led by Andrew Bud. It specializes in facial recognition technology.
The World Health Organization is currently working on international standards for digital vaccine certificates, which will make this much more feasible.
Bud says his system is ready to roll.
The technology of this is the easy bit of it. We have built this technology so that it can be trialed, so that it can be put into different use cases, and the political and social and ethical aspects of this can be explored. Those are the real challenges of vaccine certificates.
Vaccination passports give rise to some really significant human rights and civil liberties concerns.
Rosalind Comyn is the policy and campaigns manager of Liberty, a nonprofit that challenges injustice and inequality in Britain.
In essence, what vaccine passports are trying to do is create a system whereby some people can access freedoms, services or other kind of spaces and places and other people are excluded from them.
Demonstrations have already taken place in Copenhagen. Chanting "Freedom for Denmark," protesters marched against government plans to introduce a vaccine certificate.
Lars Sandahl Sorensen is a leading advocate for the project.
Lars Sandahl Sorensen:
We think that it's going to open up society substantially, has the potential to do that.
Well, simply that you can then start accessing restaurants, venues, sports venues, certainly also give you the opportunity to travel and to document to authorities that you actually have a vaccine, you actually have been tested, et cetera.
But isn't there a danger of vaccine apartheid?
In our opinion, absolutely not. It is going to help to open society, to create more mobility for all of us who need to go out and interact with other people.
Restoring tourism to Copenhagen is just one objective of Danish business and of Jens Zimmer Christensen, who heads Danish and Pan-European restaurant lobbying groups.
He owns a restaurant not far from this harbor. But he has reservations.
Jens Zimmer Christensen:
There are also a number of people — we should not forget that people with allergies. There are pregnancies. And then there are some which do not believe in vaccination at all.
One way or the other, they have to be included in society also in the future.
Tourism generates $200 billion a year for Spain. The European Union's decision to back vaccine certification is good news for Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (through translator):
The objective, in the view of the Spanish government, is to resume normality in the tourism industry as soon as possible without increasing a sanitary risk.
The rich people can get the vaccination, or the rich country can get the vaccination, and they are going to be the only ones able to travel.
Gloria Guevara from Mexico is CEO of the World Travel and Tourism Council.
Globally, the industry has lost $100 billion during the pandemic. Empty cruise ships represent a small fraction of that figure. With poorer countries struggling to vaccinate their citizens, Guevara opposes vaccine passports.
You might have two people, for instance, competing exactly for the same job with exactly the same skills, and just one having the vaccination and the other one no. And the question is, is that going to be the driver to decide, who do you hire? I don't think so.
Vaccination passports are some way off for community leader Sabia Akram. Her priority is combating resistance to the vaccine amongst ethnic minorities.
She's in the Muslim Cemetery in Slough, west of London, urging British Pakistanis to get inoculated. Slough is one of Britain's most ethnically diverse towns. There's concern that anti-vax conspiracy theorists have swayed young Asians and those with Afro-Caribbean heritage.
I'm not really that bothered by the vaccine. I kind of don't trust it. So, yes, that's why I'm probably not going to — I'm not going to get it.
Sabia Akram is worried that vaccine skepticism will exacerbate racial differences in Britain.
I think that divide that already exists will just become greater.
I think it's more important than ever for ethnic minorities to understand their vulnerabilities, some of the inherent genetic disorders and diseases that they are vulnerable to. That message hasn't been loud and clear enough from public health. And COVID is just another virus that will seek out their vulnerabilities and, unfortunately, cause death.
Those who don't get inoculated face exclusion from sections of the job market, as more organizations, such as Britain's Health Service, contemplate making inoculation a condition of employment.
Well, very clear, no jab, no job.
Charlie Mullins owns a high-profile repair and service company and is among Britain's most vocal advocates of the vaccine.
As an employer, we have an obligation to and a duty to make sure that our staff are safe and to our customers are safe.
And there's many, many people in the U.K. that will crawl across the snow half-naked to get this vaccine done at the moment.
Those views resonated on Slough's main street.
You need to take the vaccine to save others. So, I think it's quite important that people can see that you took the vaccine, that they can differentiate between the person who took the vaccine and the one who didn't take the vaccine.
I'm on my way to have the COVID vaccination. This is the first inoculation that I have had since 2011. The last time was a real disaster. I had the yellow fever vaccine that fried my brain and sent me crazy. And we lost absolutely everything.
And I have to say that my wife and my son are full of trepidation today as I go to have this vaccine. But I want to have it because I want my freedom back.
If everything runs on schedule, I should get my second shot in about three months' time, and then my interim vaccine certificate will be fully loaded. The documentation envisaged by the European Union will be digital.
For millions of Britons, local attractions are losing their allure after a year of lockdown. And, as winter fades, more exotic pastures beckon.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant in Brighton.
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Malcolm Brabant is a special correspondent for the PBS NewsHour.
Layla Quran is a general assignment producer for PBS NewsHour. She was previously a foreign affairs reporter and producer.
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