Ten questions on the next phase of the UK’s COVID-19 response
This spotlight briefing summaries the questions that remain for the UK Government about the next phase of the COVID-19 response.
- There are a number of questions which remain as to the next phase of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- What values have informed the most recent decisions on COVID-19 restrictions? Public health measures involve a number of challenging trade-offs between different rights and interests. Alongside the scientific evidence, it must be made clear which values are guiding decisions about which, and whose, interests take priority, and why.
- Is the government considering the use of “immunity certificates” in the next phase of the response? Any approach which relies on a system of ‘immunity certification’ raises a number of ethical questions concerning individual rights versus the public interest, and social justice. If the Government is considering such a system, there must be a robust and open debate now.
- How will development of an effective COVID-19 vaccine affect uptake - and what should be done? Issues around the speed of development, changes in regulation, and communication with the public may all affect public trust and uptake of any vaccine. Consideration about how to address these issues should take place now.
- What discussions are taking place on setting priorities for vaccine allocation within the UK? There is a range of different values which can be taken into consideration when setting priorities for access to limited doses of a vaccine. What values and interests will guide decision-making in this area must be clearly set out.
- How will the UK ensure a sustained commitment to global solidarity? The global nature of the pandemic shows the importance of working as part of a global effort. Although welcome steps have been taken with regard to the distribution of vaccines, it is important that it is part of a sustained effort and not just temporary.
- How is information about underlying inequalities which have been exposed by COVID-19 featuring in decision-making - and what action will be taken longer term? The knowledge of how COVID-19 has affected different groups should continue to feature in discussions, as well as forming part of longer-term action to address inequalities.
- How will public trust and solidarity in the COVID-19 response be ensured? Recent incidents of blame and the characterisation of the public as selfish or reckless will surely have an impact on public trust and solidarity, at a time when it is essential.
- What support is to be given to those bearing the greatest burdens? If some parts of society are to be asked to bear greater burdens in the COVID-19 response, the state has a duty to ensure they are supported to do so.
- How will new measures take account of principles of respect and fair and equal treatment? Any public health measures must be carried out in a way that shows respect for people as individuals of equal moral worth.
- What next? It is clear that we will have to learn to live with COVID-19 for some time. In light of that, there is an urgent need for a clear and published strategy on what decisions may need to be made in the coming months; what considerations will inform them; and who will be involved and consulted.
- Underlying all of this is the need to engage with, and account in a transparent way, to all sections of society for the decisions that are taken. This is essential for trust and trustworthiness.
Ruth is responsible for the Council’s active response programme and its horizon scanning work. Prior to joining the Council in May 2020, she was a Senior Policy Advisor in Medical Ethics and Human Rights at the British Medical Association. She has a BA in Jurisprudence from the University of Oxford and an MA in Medical Ethics and Law from King’s College London.