30 Sep 2021

Vaccine passports 'effective' for fans at events but gyms worried over staff abuse

11:43 am on 30 September 2021

The government plans to have technology for Covid-19 vaccine passports available in just over a month, which could be required for live events, venues and other services.

Vaccinated person using a digital vaccination or immunisation certificate on a smartphone at a restaurant terrace.

A passport certificate app is being developed and is likely to be available in November, the government says. Photo: 123rf

It will take the form of a smartphone app being developed by the Ministry of Health alongside businesses.

Vaccine passports are already being used overseas. In New York people must now provide proof of vaccination before attending Broadway shows.

A similar scheme would be welcomed by New Zealand's events sector, which has been crippled by lockdowns.

Live Nation New Zealand managing director Mark Kneebone said over the past 18 months they had been practising Covid-19 protocols of hand hygiene, social distancing and mask wearing but the future will be about proof of vaccination.

"It's proving to be an effective way for fans to safely attend large events overseas and we expect we'll see something like that here in New Zealand."

Kneebone is confident they could implement vaccine passports if the government mandated them.

"It just needs to be as simple as checking a concert ticket. If we can get that bit right, and that's the bit that we'd really like to feedback in, on how do you make sure that it's simple for people and businesses to check these things, then I think we can get it to work."

Overseas there have been reports of hospitality staff being abused by anti-vaxxers and people unable to prove their vaccine status.

Although he is concerned about that happening here, Kneebone said keeping people safe from Covid-19 needed to be the priority.

"I think every business is going to face that. Every time I read the newspaper, there's some poor hostess in New York being abused by someone... We can't do anything besides keep our people safe and that's what it's all about.

"And when I say 'people', I mean our fans, our crew, our talent, the people on stage, the guy selling the hotdogs, everyone. It's so important that our how wider family is looked after and that's our main aim."

Alongside hospitality and events, being fully vaccinated to access gyms could also be on the cards.

This is already the case in Israel, Italy and some provinces in Canada.

In New Zealand, gyms people must wear a mask except when exercising, and staff and customers have to adhere to social distancing protocols.

Exercise Association of New Zealand chief executive Richard Beddie said vaccine passports could put businesses in difficult positions.

"At the moment it is possibly the most divisive thing in New Zealand. Even though the majority of New Zealanders do agree with vaccinations, it's really clear if someone goes out publicly right now and says, 'I think you should be vaccinated' you will get hate speech and that is really dangerous, particularly for frontline staff who are not there to be abused and we know that that'll happen.

"We think the government needs to take a position on this."

The association had taken legal soundings on the issue.

"We think at the moment it probably can't be done. Most of the lawyers who we've spoken to are saying 'We think that while health and safety is a factor, there are lots of other laws that apply too.' You've got the Privacy Act, we've got the Human Rights Act and we've got the Bill of Rights, all of which would probably say you can't do it, and I say probably because no one has actually tested it yet."

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson told First Up the government is still deciding how vaccine certificates would be used.

"There are a lot of considerations, both in terms of the practicalities of their use but also around human rights and how that would actually work", Robertson said.

Event organisers and others had indicated they were keen on the idea.

"It would certainly be giving people a lot more comfort and security that events can be held with vaccinated people - we've seen that around the world so we're currently talking that through with sectors like the events industry to see how it could work and we'll have announcements to make once we've had those conversations and made the decisions."

University of Auckland professor of philosophy Tim Dare said while he supports mandatory Covid-19 vaccines, the idea of a vaccine passport will pose accessibility issues for those who can't get vaccinated so can't get a passport.

"We need to think carefully about the support we provide to people who are not vaccinated.

"You need to make sure that it's possible for the person who can't get vaccinated for good reasons to go about their lives as fully as they can."

He said vaccination passports will no doubt act as an incentive for people to get vaccinated, but questions why we don't just make the vaccine itself mandatory.

"I don't quite see why we don't have the discussion around whether we should just make Covid vaccination compulsory, because we're getting the same result, but by a backdoor and pretending we're being more accommodating and not being authoritarian while we're doing it.

"I approve of the outcome, but I'm slightly worried about the unevenness of the strategy."

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