New Zealand is moving to a two-tier society, but the unvaccinated are already a global underclass

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Watch: Jacinda Ardern admits New Zealand will become a two-tier society between vaccinated and unvaccinated

New Zealand’s Covid policy has once again hit the headlines. Last week, Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister, admitted that its new plans on loosening restrictions risked turning the country into a “two-tier” society.

Under the "traffic light" policy, those who are vaccinated will be able to move around and use services relatively freely, while the unjabbed will not.

But this policy is not confined to the Pacific island nation: vaccine passes are gaining traction around the world as countries introduce greater freedoms for those who are immunised, risking the creation of an unvaccinated underclass. 

Perhaps one of the most eye-opening vaccine mandates under consideration is in Austria, where the number of cases is climbing again - and those who are unjabbed risk being confined to their homes.

On Friday, Alexander Schallenberg, the country’s chancellor,warned that if the number of Covid patients in Austria’s intensive care units exceeds 600 - or a third of the country’s total ICU capacity - those who have not been vaccinated will be forced into lockdown and will only be able to leave their homes under specific circumstances. 

This is one of the more extreme options under consideration, but other countries are also becoming less afraid of interfering in their citizens' lives in a bid to ensure high vaccine rates.

Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand prime minister, during a youth vaccination festival. The country is introducing a new policy that denies freedoms to some people who have not been jabbed
Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand prime minister, during a youth vaccination festival. The country is introducing a new policy that denies freedoms to some people who have not been jabbed

Employees fired for refusing vaccine

In July, United States president Joe Biden announced a “jab for jobs” policy for anyone working for the federal government. He also called on private sector employers to do more to encourage vaccination - many enthusiastically obliged.

In August, United Airlines announced a vaccine mandate for its 67,000 employees and by the end of September the company said 99 per cent had been jabbed. Some 600 were fired, putting the company at the forefront of the vaccine mandate battle lines. 

Tyson Foods - a meat packing company that employs 120,000 people - was also lauded by Mr Biden for its vaccine mandate. 

Meat processing plants in the US saw a spate of outbreaks early on in the pandemic and when the company first announced it was requiring workers to be jabbed, only 45 per cent of its workforce had been immunised. By the end of September the company said that figure stood at around 90 per cent. 

According to the White House, the vaccination rate in Washington State jumped 34 per cent after the governor announced requirements for state workers.

However, media reports have shown that nearly 1,900 state workers - including the head football coach at Washington State University - had left their jobs or been asked to leave since the requirement was put in place.

Such jabs for jobs policies have stoked controversy and thousands are reported to have either left their jobs or been fired.

Human Rights Watch has raised concerns over a vaccine mandate in Cambodia, one of a handful where children under the age of 12 are being jabbed. Earlier this month the governor of Phnom Penh issued an order requiring anyone over the age of six to show proof of status before being allowed entry to schools, markets, restaurants and other public spaces. 

The organisation said the order was issued with little publicity and without mentioning medical exemptions. Some 76 per cent of people in Cambodia are fully vaccinated but the organisation said there were still concerns over access.

“The government needs to make sure that Covid-19 vaccines are available to everyone and that restrictive measures don’t arbitrarily keep people from meeting their basic needs and getting essential services,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at the organisation. 

Vaccine passports commonplace across Europe

Meanwhile in many European countries vaccine passports are now de rigeur if you want to have anything resembling a social life. 

In July, Emmanuel Macron, the French president, announced that anyone wanting to enter cinemas, museums, restaurants and bars would have to present proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test. 

France is one of the most vaccine sceptical nations on earth but the “pass sanitaire” has turbocharged the country’s previously sluggish vaccination rate. Now, around 67 per cent of the country is double jabbed, compared to around 66 per cent in the UK.

Protesters march against France's Covid restrictions - Siegfried Modola/Getty Images
Protesters march against France's Covid restrictions - Siegfried Modola/Getty Images

But the policy has also sparked a new wave of "gilets jaunes" style protests, with demonstrators incensed at such restrictions in a country where "liberté" is enshrined as a universal right. 

Germany has a similar "3G" rule. As of August anyone wanting to enter a public building such as a cafe, cinema or nursing home must prove that they have been either vaccinated, recovered from Covid or tested (geimpft, genesen, getestet).

Anyone concerned that once introduced, such restrictions are hard to roll back should be heartened by the example of Portugal - over the summer proof of vaccination was required for entry to bars and restaurants. But the second highest vaccination rate in the world - nearly 87 per cent of the population are fully protected - and low case rates mean the requirements were ditched last month. 

In the UK, only Scotland has introduced anything similar. This came into force in Scotland on October 1, with businesses given a 17-day grace period to put it into effect - it became a legal requirement on October 17 for anyone going to a nightclub or large event such as a football match to show proof of double vaccination or a negative test. 

Watch: Jacinda Ardern stays calm as earthquake rattles New Zealand during news conference

However, whether such a policy will come into force in England is a matter for debate. In September health secretary Sajid Javid ruled out the introduction of a a vaccine passport - for the time being at least - after a backlash from Tory MPs.

Mr Javid said: "I've never liked the idea of saying to people you must show your papers or something to do what is just an everyday activity, but we were right to properly look at it.

"We've looked at it properly and whilst we should keep it in reserve as a potential option, I'm pleased to say that we will not be going ahead with plans for vaccine passports."

While a blanket vaccine policy may not be official government policy vaccinations are required for care home workers - from November 11 anyone working or volunteering in a care home will need to be fully vaccinated, unless exempt.

However, by the Department for Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) own estimates, around 40,000 carers – seven per cent of the workforce – will refuse the jab, meaning that managers will be forced to sack them, depleting a workforce that is already around 120,000 workers short. 

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