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Vaccine papers, please!

Vaccine passport

"Welcome to our country," says the immigration officer, "your passport please?"

You fumble through your travel wallet, pull out your national passport, and helpfully open it to the photo page.

"Thank you," she says, "Now, the other one."

But you don't have the other one. You haven't gotten the COVID vaccine, so you don't have the "vaccine passport" that this country now requires for entry.


This scene could soon play out in many places around the world as countries and airlines begin issuing — or requiring — vaccine passports that prove the bearer has been vaccinated against COVID-19 or has recently tested negative for the virus.

This isn't just a question of that vacation you've been dreaming of since the pandemic shut down travel. Many employers could begin demanding proof of vaccination before they hire you — or even to let you in the building for an interview. Medical facilities in some places have already made clear that vaccinations for their staff will be mandatory.

Are vaccines passports a good idea? People, governments, and companies want to know who might set off a new COVID wave and who is safe. But are we moving toward a Brave New World where the holders of vaccine passports become an unfairly privileged class of people?

The arguments in favor are obvious. Governments want to know that people entering their countries are highly unlikely to spread the virus within their borders. That's particularly important for major international transit hubs like London and Hong Kong, and island tourism destinations, but also for large economies like, say, the Philippines, Thailand, Greece, or Mexico, where jobs, economic growth, and government revenue depend heavily on outside business travelers and tourists.

And national governments aren't the only ones interested in a vaccine passport. Airlines want people to feel safe enough to fly. Event producers, hoteliers, and restaurant owners — who have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic — want customers to feel secure enough to return in large numbers.

There are also strong arguments against this idea. First, it won't be easy to build such a complex system with anything approaching common standards and oversight, and the risk of mistaken identity is obvious. Given the stakes, a black market in fake passports will likely arise -- feeding corruption and undermining confidence in public gatherings, especially if some holders of vaccine passports are shown to transmit infection.

Second, even if the system works well, it will inevitably discriminate against people who, through no fault of their own, are still waiting to be vaccinated. That could mean younger and healthier people who are ineligible until later stages of the vaccine distribution process or those who are eligible but don't yet have enough information or access to vaccination sites. And those who decide not to get vaccinated because they believe it's dangerous would also pay a price in terms of mobility and employment under a system like this.

Bottom-line: The World Health Organization opposes a vaccine passport plan, but countries like Denmark, Sweden, Israel and others already have passport plans in development. Australia's Qantas Airways won't fly you down under without proof you've been jabbed. Other governments and private companies are debating right now whether and how to create and roll out such a system.

Wales, early 19th century: During breaks from his law studies, William Robert Grove indulges in his passion for science to become an inventor. On his honeymoon in Europe, he learns about the new energy source everyone's talking about: electricity. After learning that electricity allows water to be broken down into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, his intuition leads him to an idea that ends up making him a pioneer of sustainable energy production.

Watch the story of William Robert Grove in Eni's MINDS series, where we travel through time seeking scientists.

El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele is an unusual politician. The 39-year old political outsider boasts of his political triumphs on TikTok, dons a suave casual uniform (backwards-facing cap; leather jacket; tieless ), and refuses to abide by Supreme Court rulings.

Bukele also enjoys one of the world's highest approval ratings, and that's what helped his New Ideas party clinch a decisive victory in legislative elections on February 28, securing a close to two-third's supermajority (75 percent of the vote had been counted at the time of this writing).

His triumph will resonate far beyond the borders of El Salvador, Central America's smallest country, home to 6.5 million people. Now that Bukele has consolidated power in a big way, here are a few key developments to keep an eye on.

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Now that millions of high-priority Americans have been vaccinated, many people in low-risk groups are starting to ask the same question: when's my turn? Dr. Anthony Fauci, America's top infectious diseases expert, has an answer, but probably not the one they're hoping for: "It probably won't be until May or June before we can at least start to get the normal non-prioritized person vaccinated." On GZERO World, Dr. Fauci also addresses another burning question: why aren't schools reopening faster? And while Dr. Fauci acknowledges that reopening schools must be a top priority, he has no quick fixes there, either. In fact, that's kind of a theme of the interview.

Watch the GZERO World episode: Dr. Fauci's Pandemic Prognosis

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

I thought I would talk today, I haven't spoken much about former President Trump since he's no longer president and I intend to continue that practice. But given this weekend and the big speech at CPAC and the fact that in the straw poll, Trump won and won by a long margin. I mean, DeSantis came in number two, but he's the Governor of Florida, CPAC was in Orlando, so that's a home court bias. In reality, it's Trump's party. And I think given all of that, it's worth spending a little bit of time reflecting on what that means, how I think about these things.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, and as we head into the weekend, a Quick Take on, well, the first bombing campaign of the new Biden administration. You kind of knew it was going to happen. Against some Iranian-backed militias in Syria, looks like a couple of dozen, perhaps more killed, and some militia-connected military facilities destroyed. I think there are a few ways to look at this, maybe three different lenses.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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Biden strikes Syria. Now what?

Quick Take