A protest against Covid vaccine passports will take place in Cardiff Bay this afternoon, ahead of a Senedd vote on whether to implement the policy.

The demonstration has been organissed by the civil liberty organisation Big Brother Watch, which says that NHS Covid passes would negatively impact marginalised groups, and risk hardening the resolve of anti-vaxxers.

If implemented, the new scheme would, from Monday October 11, require nightclubs and some other venues to permit entry to over-18s only if they hold a valid NHS Covid pass.

To obtain the pass, a person would need to demonstrate either that they were fully vaccinated or that they had received a negative lateral flow test result within the past 48-hours.

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For a digital NHS pass, they would also need to upload a valid photo ID to the NHS website, such as a passport or a full UK driving license. Without a photo ID, a person would need to call to request a paper Covid certificate.

It would become an offence to provide false or misleading information about your Covid status in order to get a pass.

Big Brother Watch, a campaign group focussed on privacy rights and surveillance technology, argues that the policy is unnecessary, and would “economically exclude millions of disproportionately marginalised people”.

It warns that the passes would discriminate against groups where vaccination levels are lower – either through lack of access or through vaccine hesitancy.

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Such groups include young people, BAME people, immigrants and refugees, as well as pregnant people and those with health issues that prevent them from receiving a vaccine.

Research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism this year found that the 1.2million undocumented migrants living in the UK, already more likely to live in poverty and to be cut off from public services, would likely face tremendous difficulty accessing the Covid vaccine.

The study found that around 76% of GP surgeries across Wales, England and Scotland would refuse to register an undocumented migrant – contrary to NHS policy, which states that proof of immigration status or address is not required.

Without GP registration, undocumented migrants would not be called for a Covid jab – yet they are also likely to work in close-quarter jobs, including hospitality settings where the NHS Pass would apply.

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Human rights group Liberty echoed the worries of Big Brother Watch recently, saying that the NHS Covid Pass scheme “sets a dangerous precedent”.

Both groups have raised concerns about “mission creep” – where a policy begins to expand beyond its original purpose – as a reason to exercise caution.

In the context of vaccine passports, mission creep might, for example, include venues screening members of the public for other health issues or other documentation before entry.

The National Wales: Big Brother Watch recently projected its message onto the Houses of Parliament. (Photo: Big Brother Watch)Big Brother Watch recently projected its message onto the Houses of Parliament. (Photo: Big Brother Watch)

Liberty policy officer, Jodie Beck, added: “Vaccine passports under any name mean more coercion and division, and risk creating a two-tier society where people who are already marginalised will see their rights and autonomy most affected.

“The Welsh Government must not use this vaccine pass as the first step to normalise and usher in even more coercive policies, such as wider use of vaccine passports and mandatory vaccinations.

“Politicians across the UK should be ensuring wide access to vaccines, providing better education to support and empower people to give informed consent, with a full understanding of the risks and benefits to themselves and others.”

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A petition by Big Brother Watch opposing the Covid pass policy has been signed by a number of Welsh politicians across the political divide, including Beth Winter, the Labour MP for the Cynon Valley, and David Jones, the Conservative MP for Clwyd West.

Welsh Labour will need votes from opposition members to pass the Covid pass policy in the Senedd today. However the Welsh Conservatives are set to oppose, alongside sole Liberal Democrat MS Jane Dodds, who has called the policy “illiberal”.

Plaid Cymru’s position is so far unclear.

The Scottish government rolled out their own Covid Pass scheme last Friday, but within hours its app suffered significant operating problems.

The UK government meanwhile has halted its plans to introduce similar measures.

Meanwhile, Wales continues to have some of the highest Covid case rates in the UK, with the worst-hit areas including Neath Port Talbot, Denbighshire, Caerphilly and Swansea.

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