'Freedom passports' could bring the end of lockdowns, says PROF EVANS
PROFESSOR SIR CHRISTOPHER EVANS: Mobile app ‘Freedom passports’ could bring the end of lockdowns and return Britain to normality while vaccines do their work
The Prime Minister’s view that the third wave of COVID evident in Europe may ‘wash up on our shores’ could well be correct. However depressing that prospect is, the UK should not be blown off course as we plan our route out of lockdown.
As a scientist, I learned a long time ago that getting ahead of yourself is fraught with risk, and predictions are easy to make and often difficult to fulfil.
I do not envy the task of government ministers and civil servants plotting a way out of lockdown. What you wish for and what you get can be entirely different. We all want to get out of it – but how will in work in practice?
The effect of lockdown in dramatically reducing transmission of the disease, coupled with the UK’s brilliant vaccine strategy, has given us all hope and a tantalising glimpse of freedom on the horizon.
We can go forward from here with a great deal of confidence.
The continuing clampdown on people travelling abroad without good reason, due to the regulations remaining in place, is far from the uplifting message we all want to hear right now.
However, we have to bear in mind that many other parts of Europe and the rest of the world are not in the same situation as the UK at present.
The advantage we have forged by being quick off the mark with vaccine procurement and deployment has given us a great platform for the foreseeable future.
As a scientist, I learned a long time ago that getting ahead of yourself is fraught with risk, and predictions are easy to make and often difficult to fulfil, writes PROF SIR CHRISTOPHER EVANS
Vaccines are working, mass testing is vital, the clever use of drugs such as Dexamethasone is reducing the worst effects of COVID. All these are playing important parts in the road to recovery.
But how do we get people back to pubs, restaurants, shops, theatres and sports stadia in large numbers safely – without unravelling all the progress we’ve made in combating COVID-19?
We’ve all seen the blizzard of messages about test and trace, vaccine passports, travel certificates and the like and there’s huge pressure on those charged with plotting the course for us all over the next few months.
People being able to demonstrate to demonstrate their COVID health status in this way will remove a major obstacle for working, going to social events and travelling – all in large numbers, writes PROF EVANS
As we look back over the last year in terms of fighting the pandemic, there are, of course, things that could and should have been done differently and others that were done well.
Now, I firmly believe that the UK can build on the success of the bold attitude it took towards being first out of the blocks with vaccine procurement.
It’s a fact that the UK has always excelled with its science and we need look no further than the spectacular success of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – created and approved for use in record time.
We’ve also got an enviable record in technology. The company I lead, Excalibur Healthcare Services, has teamed up with Sensyne Health, the artificial intelligence company led by another UK leader in medical sciences, Lord Drayson.
A combination of Excalibur’s accredited testing processes combined with Sensyne’s innovative technology have enabled us to create a complete freedom passport which uses AI through a mobile phone app.
This means people can take a range of COVID-19 tests, record, verify and display the results accurately on their phone. In addition, a vaccine certificate can be uploaded – if approved by government – from a national database.
People being able to demonstrate to demonstrate their COVID health status in this way will remove a major obstacle for working, going to social events and travelling – all in large numbers.
This ‘made in Oxford and Cambridge’ breakthrough is just one example but Britain has the talent to crack on, going further and faster.
There are plenty of predictions about how COVID-19 will continue to plague us all and no nation can lay legitimate claim to have mastered the way to tackle this dreadful pandemic.
Of course, we cannot think of this in terms of designing solutions that will only suit the UK. We can’t deal with this in isolation and we are painfully aware of how the virus knows no borders.
But despite the latest gloomy predictions of third waves and new, worrying variants, so much of the answer can lie in our own scientific and technological hands.
Can vaccine or freedom passports work? Of course, they can. We can make huge progress in the first instance by dependable mass testing to allow people to mix together in large numbers.
Businesses in all walks of life have embraced testing in the workplace and that can be extended and implemented particularly in the hospitality, leisure and, yes, travel sectors.
Testing and the accurate verifying of results will be vital in managing the spread of infection. Of course, there are concerns over how the use of vaccine or freedom passports may impact individual privacy rights, but I believe most people would think it’s a price worth paying to getting back to normal.
Vaccines are the best hope of completely squashing the spread of infection but even they alone will not be the complete answer in the short term.
Drug development, science and technology will all have their part to play. It’s about getting the right combination.
There’s no one magic solution to all of this but what we can learn is that Britain was bold in its approach with vaccines. We need to show we will be bold again in this next phase of lifting lockdown without jeopardising what has been achieved so far.
It’s not easy for any government and all of us have our opinions. Like most people I want to go back to the pub, take my wife to the theatre, watch a rugby match alongside thousands of other fans and go on holiday abroad.
I wouldn’t put me or my family at risk to do this but I believe we can achieve this safely within months. The UK is ahead of the game and we should have the confidence to blaze another trail using the country’s scientific and technological firepower. It’s in our own hands.
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