Why Covid-19 Regulations May Exist Longer Than You Think, Opinion News & Top Stories

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Traveling these days requires a lot of paperwork. On a recent trip to Italy, I needed to produce proof of vaccination, proof of three different negative lateral flow tests, proof of booking a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, a passenger tracing form for the European Union (EU) and a passenger tracing form for Great Britain.

Some forms were poorly designed. Websites used to crash. And some rules reminded us of masses and nuts.

I couldn’t blame the bureaucracy. I was trying to travel around the world in the teeth of a pandemic. But as I tried to fill out another form, a dark thought occurred to me: what if all that paperwork never goes away? Sars-CoV-2 isn’t in imminent danger of being eradicated, after all, and the paperwork can be sticky.

For context, I picked up Martin Lloyd’s animated story, The Passport, and was only somewhat reassured. In pre-modern times, the default assumption was that no one was allowed to travel anywhere – often not even to the next town – without official permission. Over time, and unevenly, freer movement has become possible.

In England in 1215, the Magna Carta included a clause proclaiming that “any man will be permitted to leave and return to our kingdom unscathed and without fear,” what Lloyd calls “the first attempt to abolish a passport system. “.
This attempt did not last, but the British had long disdained the idea of ​​passports, and by the 1800s the documents they issued, personally signed by the Foreign Secretary, did not provide any physical description.

In 1835, the newly independent country of Belgium asked “all foreign governments” to provide details such as age, height, and hair color on the passports they issued.

In an exchange that the current British administration can only dream of, British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston called the passport system “disgusting”, the request for personal information “offensive and degrading”, and told the Belgians that if they wanted to destroy their tourism industry, it was their own choice.

The Belgians retreated. In discussions with Brussels at the time, the British government really had all the cards in hand.
In any case, opinion was moving towards the British approach. The Emperor Napoleon III of France noted with admiration: “In England, the first of all freedoms, that of going where you want, is never disturbed, because there you do not ask for a passport.

The United States and most European countries had abandoned passports by the end of the 19th century. In many South American countries, the freedom to travel without a passport was a constitutional right.

So how did the passport roar back? The answer was World War I.

Not only were there spies to intercept, but ID cards and similar documents also allowed governments to keep tabs on their citizens – and find more recruits for their armies.

Lloyd writes: “At the end of the war in 1918 the passport abolition movement was revitalized, but it was now fighting against governments which had discovered how much control a population could be and how much it could. be easily justified.

Passports are not the only war measure to become permanent. In Britain, the income tax was introduced in 1799 as a temporary means of financing the war against the forces of Napoleon Bonaparte. It turned out to be less temporary than announced.

Compensatory forces

What about all these certificates and tracking forms? Will they join the passport and income tax as emergency measures that somehow last forever?

The cynic in me fears this paperwork will take much longer than necessary, but the evidence suggests that countervailing forces will rally to oppose regulation.

The World Bank’s Doing Business project tracks the cost and time required to comply with regulations such as registering a business or obtaining a building permit.

The places with the simplest rules are New Zealand, Singapore, Denmark, South Korea, the United States, Great Britain and Sweden, and the major economies are generally on the lookout for further improvements. .

There is a promising scenario – at least in my opinion – in which governments succeed in both strengthening and streamlining their public health information systems, so that ordinary citizens can move around easily in normal times, but in where information about tests, vaccinations and even quarantine can be quickly gathered when needed.

Having to show proof of vaccination may seem overwhelming to some, but during a health crisis, being able to do so effortlessly may be far better than the alternative. Income tax can also seem oppressive, but few oppose the principle.

Perhaps the history of the passport can teach us a lesson. As we do not live in a world where anyone can cross any border, the passport has become a tool for rationalizing and democratizing travel, and even for defending human rights.

A 1920 League of Nations conference began the process of agreeing on international standards for passports and ensuring that any citizen could have one for a reasonable price.

“Nansen” passports, unofficially named after their promoter, polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen, were issued by the League in the 1920s. They were given to refugees after the chaos of World War I and the Revolution. Russian.

Nansen passports allowed, rather than restricted, the freedoms of these refugees. It wasn’t paperwork, it was a ticket to freedom.


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