Watching the first spell-binding episode of Adam Curtis’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head, Dr No was repeatedly struck by the revelation that modern humans are giant biped ants. We live in colonies, ruled over preposterous queens — Jiang Qing, Mao’s fourth wife, and key player in the China’s Cultural Revolution, got a lot of air time in the first episode — and organise ourselves by the division of labour. We have workers (the likes of Dr No, and most of you), soldiers (our NHS frontline heroes) and drones (politicians and the mainstream media). Colonies readily attack other colonies, be it the maskers attacking the anti-maskers, or the lockdown fanatics attacking the lockdown sceptics. Like ants, we swarm, and frankly, the only discernable difference that Dr No could make out between a swarm of ants and a swarm of humans is that the ants know exactly where they are going, while the humans don’t have a clue.

This unfortunate difference arises because, while ants have the unburdened benefit of millennia of unimpaired evolutionary programming, we humans have the added burden of imagination. We imagine enemies and terrors, which is bad enough, were it not that our attempts to imagine ways of fighting our enemies and countering our terrors are even worse. Seen through this prism, the whole history of our attempts to manage pandemic terror could not have been more catastrophic. From the early mesmerising incantation of daily counts of those who have ‘sadly died’ — with sadly a redundant word if ever there was one, because no death is ever joyful — through the rank despotism of rule by decree, we have become, to use one of Dr No’s favourite Dad’s Army lines, a nation of automatons lead by a lunatic who looks like a clown.

Until recently, our despots have ruled out imagining domestic covid passports as a way of achieving pandemic control. International ones perhaps, as other nations make proof of covid vaccination a requirement for entry, but never at home. But, as ever, the firmer the announcement, the more likely it is to suffer reverse. Only last week, as the roadmap out of lockdown appeared, with all the clarity of an Escher’s Ascending and Descending staircase, we had confirmation, in the official Covid–19 Response Spring 2021 paper, that the Government ‘will review whether COVID-status certification could play a role in reopening our economy, reducing restrictions on social contact and improving safety’. To Dr No’s covid weary mind, that means the once unthinkable is now a dead certainty. Domestic covid-status certification, as mealy mouthed an Orwellian ‘Covid Passports Make You Free’ example of Covid Newspeak as can be imagined, is going to happen.

There are two fundamental reasons why domestic covid passports are a very bad idea. The first and most obvious one is that they are discriminatory. Indeed, that is their very purpose, to discriminate, between those deemed — we’ll put aside that we don’t yet know for certain, because in time we should know — to be immune, whether by natural infection or immunisation, and so deemed to incapable of infecting others, and those who, for whatever reason, remain as walking biohazards. The very existence of a covid passport is discriminatory in effect, and divides us into those who comply, and those who don’t, and we know what happens next.

We have already seen how those who comply — masking is the classic example — denigrate and attack those who don’t. Most shops, hospitals, or indeed any interior space open to the public, now has a ‘No mask, No entry’ sign on the door. But a mask is only a mask, really no more than a symbolic mask of compliance, a badge adopted by the controlling colony of ant-humans, while the rest of us reluctantly and under silent protest go along with the goonery so we can get on with our lives, knowing the badge is something external, that can be donned and doffed at will. The mask never becomes a part of you.

Covid passports, based on vaccination or antibody serology — point in time tests for current infection are meaningless for passport purposes — are utterly different, because they represent something internal, your deemed immune status. This isn’t something you can don and doff at will, it is a part of you. This gives the passports a degree of potency that even the most bizarre of masks can never hope to achieve: the individual who has deemed covid immunity, and so a passport, is fundamentally different to the individual who does not. On such biological differences are the foundations of violent discrimination laid.

The second fundamental reason why covid passports are a very bad idea overlaps in part with the first, in that it is also about biological status, and more particularly the usual recording of that status digitally with the express intent of allowing others who have nothing whatsoever to do with our health care to access our health records. Of all the pandemic changes burdened with the overworked word unprecedented, such a change is surely one of the most unprecedented. It is a fundamental shift in the way we do things. At a stroke, the near sacred privacy of our medical records becomes violated, and — mark Dr No’s words — when such changes come about, they are far harder to reverse than they are to implement. Forget the positive arguments about convenience, portability and work-a-day usefulness. Consider instead the negative argument, that adopting domestic covid passports opens the door to a radically new dystopian world where we are often expected, and sometimes required, to carry a chunk — a chunk which you can be sure will expand over time — of our health record on our person, and display it to any Tom Dick or Harry on demand.

But really, there is no need to go there in the first place. There is a much simpler, better, more equitable and more British way of doing things. Once fifty percent of the population have been vaccinated, we just presume people are immune, with that presumption grower ever stronger as yet more people get vaccinated until we reach herd immunity levels of vaccination. At that point, the covid passport becomes utterly  redundant, because that is the whole point of herd immunity — transmission is halted.  Simple, effective, and all done without a single blasted domestic covid passport in sight.   


  1. Shawn Gibson Reply

    As a student I partook in a Spencer Tunick art installation which involved several thousand people getting together at 4am on a rather chilly Tyneside morning. The purpose of our mass gathering was that we would all strip-off and he would photograph us, en masse, in the name of art. We all waited for the instruction to undress, and when it came there was a frenzied panic so as not to be the last person who remained clothed. I was reminded of this by your post – my point being that while everyone is doing it (wearing masks etc) one feels obliged to go along. But, once the tide has turned (and that tide looks to be approaching fast) and the interventions start to fade away it will quickly feel alien once more.

  2. carolyn_f Reply

    Good post Dr No.

    Re your penultimate paragraph, this afternoon I happened to spot the following in a Big Brother Watch Emergency Powers Report, Nov 2020, section: Health Passports, page 37:

    [Quote] It is important to consider what this health surveillance architecture will be repurposed for. The Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the Health and Social Care Committee that the mass testing capacity built up by the NHS would be re-purposed beyond the coronavirus pandemic:
    “Having built this, we must hold on to it. And afterwards we must use it not just for coronavirus, but everything.
    “In fact, I want to have a change in the British way of doing things, where if in doubt, get a test. It doesn’t just refer to coronavirus, but to any illness that you might have.”

    While the Health Secretary was referencing testing, it is easy to see how the same logic could apply to other elements of the pandemic response, including health passports. [/ENDS]

    This particular Genie, once out, will not go back back in its bottle.

    I know they don’t do much good but, having read Hancock’s comment, I ran off on electronic legs and signed the petition (Do not rollout Covid-19 vaccine passports)… and then read the small print, to wit: “On behalf of the millions of people waiting to have their petitions debated, I am disappointed that the Government hasn’t made it possible for debates to continue virtually while Westminster Hall has to close. (Catherine McKinnell MP, Chair of the Petitions Committee)

    Stymied at every turn – all ends up!

  3. formertory Reply

    ” …………where if in doubt, get a test. It doesn’t just refer to coronavirus, but to any illness that you might have.”

    Say “take a pill” instead of “get a test” and you’re directly into Aldous Huxley’s vision of Brave New World – and I mean the book, not the pointless TV serialisation. All the infantilised sheep, bred into their societal roles, just taking a pill to avoid worry; secure in the assumption that the Alpha Double-Pluses are looking after them.

    We desperately need more Savages! Huge numbers of them.

    Good post, Dr No. Don’t let Rosamund Pike see the header image, for heaven’s sake.

  4. steve Reply

    Is it true, the vast majority of people, don’t actually think at all? Driven only by the surface layer of information and a brain which is using the wrong system in which to make a decision.

    I’m of course thinking (no pun intended) of Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman!

    It would appear, so often we make wrong decisions and use our Lizard brain (system 1) when we should be using our newer and yet slower thinking brain (system 2) and vice versa.

    Does this mean all government decisions are coming from Lizards, or does it mean that we (humans) are making decisions as a Lizard would? Perhaps we are all Lizards in human form!

    When the power of the many is given over to the power of the few which is what our current system of democracy does, we seem doomed to suffer the consequences of a few Lizard brains making Lizard like decisions on our behalf.

    As the new and so-called Brazilian variant of Covid-19 scuttles about causing all sorts of grief, I wonder whether the receivers of the current vaccines asked about ADE (antibody dependent enhancement) as part of their informed consent?

    ADE is a known problem and could happen when a person has had a vaccine and then catches the virus or a variation of the virus and gets a worse illness than if they haven’t had the vaccine.

    My doctor didn’t understand and had never heard about ADE (he has of course already had the vaccine)! I did ask what he thought about medium and long term adverse events from these vaccines, and he had no answer. He did though say, the number needed to treat to save one life at my age was in the thousands.

    I don’t want a certificate or a passport stamped with my vaccine details because it seems to be a decision made by Lizard brains and will no doubt be lapped up by other Lizard brained people.

    This and other governments wield so much power, a few people are making decisions which they claim will save me from a fate worse than death!

    Taking away my autonomy and decision-making apparatus by coercion is not what I thought I was voting for.

    I’d simply prefer they let my Lizard brain get on with life and living and bugger off!

  5. Annie Davenport Turner Reply

    Steve, your doctor hadn’t heard of ADE??! Oh, wow…
    And I am reminded ever more, as time goes on, of GB Shaw’s words: ‘2% of the world think, 3% of the world think they think, and 95% of the world would rather die than think’.

    Excellent blog, Dr No, thank you. And brilliant comments; thank you for the proof of that horrific ‘gem’, Carolyn_f.

  6. Tom Welsh Reply

    To my mind, the main difference between ants and people in terms of organisation is that ants, as Dr No explains, have evolved for hundreds of millions of years to live in nests – in huge groups.

    Whereas human beings evolved, perhaps first as individuals living on insects and such, but then as large primates living in medium-sized groups or families. For perhaps 2 million years, our ancestors instinctively organised themselves in communities of between a dozen or so and a couple of hundred – never more.

    Our instincts are well adapted to groups of that size. Only since the agricultural revolution allowed the creation of towns and cities have our communities grown by a factor of up to 1 million. That has given a huge comparative advantage to swindlers, liars and cheats, who could never prosper (or perhaps even survive) in small communities where they would be known to all.

    We evolved to live like chimps or gorillas but we have forced ourselves to live like ants – and we are very bad indeed at doing so.

  7. Tom Welsh Reply

    “In fact, I want to have a change in the British way of doing things, where if in doubt, get a test. It doesn’t just refer to coronavirus, but to any illness that you might have.”

    An unusually cogent proof – were any still needed – of the fact that our “health secretary” is wholly innocent of any medical or scientific knowledge, and actually not very intelligent either. Maybe he gets his ideas from “Star Trek”.

    What Mr Hancock seems to be recommending is quite close to the traditional procedure, which of course is to go to your GP and have him (or her) diagnose you.

    The difference between that and Mr Hancock’s big idea is that, instead of relying on the expert knowledge and experience of a GP, you should instead demand “a test”. Brilliant, eh? But a test for what? Someone who visits the GP feeling poorly could be suffering from any of hundreds of infectious diseases, organic diseases, etc. – or be hung over or over-tired or short of sleep or simply a hypochondriac or a malingerer. The Human Brain Mark I – when suitably trained and helped out by books, etc. – can cut through that jungle of possibilities fairly quickly, and arrive at a tentative diagnosis. Then, if desirable, that diagnosis can be confirmed by a few tests.

    What is Mr Hancock’s alternative? The “customer” asks to be tested – presumably for “everything”. That would mean one PCR test for every viral disease, plus thousands of others for bacterial, fungal, autoimmune… It would take most of the NHS a year to diagnose one person!

    What does Mr Hancock think doctors are for, anyway? Going on TV in white coats to persuade people to do what he wants them to?

    Dr Lisa Sanders’ excellent book “Diagnosis” is a good corrective to Mr Hancock’s diseased thinking – which, as she points out, is shared to a lesser degree by far too many doctors. One of her main themes is that recently doctors (especially the younger and more impressionable ones) have come to rely more and more on sophisticated tests and equipment, while losing touch with the vital doctor-patient relationship. Dr Sanders explains that a good doctor can discover a remarkable amount simply by examining and talking to a patient, much of which is missed by the “mechanised” approach now in fashion.

    Dr Sanders contributed significantly to the TV series “House, M.D.” whose protagonist is a near-perfect example of the attitudes which she criticises. Nevertheless, the testimonial printed across the top of the paperback edition’s front cover is from Hugh Laurie, who played the part of Dr Gregory House.

  8. Ed P Reply

    Hancock’s Wiki entry is interesting: An ‘A’-level in physice is the nearest he’s been to any science. PPE at Oxford, then (more) economics. Not a trace of formally-studied biology or anything even vaguely medical. Ant yet we have to listen to him wittering on about SARS-CoV-2 & covid as if he knows what he’s talking about. So any ‘big ideas’ he spouts are either (a) beyond his understanding or (b) in his earpiece.
    But I’m sure he would be surprised to find some people partially blame him for 1000s of unnecessary deaths, due to his involvement in Boris’ disgracefully incompetent government.

    • Tom Welsh Reply

      “Not a trace of formally-studied biology or anything even vaguely medical”.

      Just like Dr Ferguson, then. He has a PhD, but it and his bachelor degree were in physics.

      Physics happens to be a much simpler, clearer subject than biology or biochemistry. Immunology appears to be a classic case study of Einstein’s warning, “Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler”.

      Epidemiology seems to consist largely of making things simpler than they can or should be. Is slogan might be, “It seems obvious that…”

  9. dr-no Reply

    Thank you all for your interesting and erudite comments.

    Hancoop is famously nerdy – long before popping the cherry on Dido’s cake, he had his own consituent app which imploded rather spectacularly. He was also briefly Minister for Digital, Culture, Media, Sport, Bake Offs, Apps and anything else Not Very Important (according to government – at least one of those things is more than important, it is what gives rise to some of our highest achievements). He is Mr ‘Anything for an App, and an App for Everything’.

    Some traditional western medical basics:

    1. You diagnose and even more importantly treat, patients. Not diseases, not tests, not scans, not x-rays, not anything else, only ever just patients.

    2. Until fairly recently, you had to be ill to be ill. In other words, you had to have symptoms or signs that troubled you. This principle got eroded by cardiovascular risk factors, notably high blood pressure and cholesterol level: having a high risk factor became a ‘disease’ in its own right. Similar diagnostic land grabs happened with other risk factors eg higher than recommended (and we have discussed how those recommendations came about in the recent past) alcohol consumption even in the absence of any complications caused by alcohol.

    3. Once doctors are a few years into their career, most diagnosis is done by pattern recognition. Perhaps the best way to describe this is to say that a very junior doctor is like a person who has to spell out every letter (symptom, sign) to read a word (make a diagnosis). As the person gets better at reading, they just see the word and get the meaning in an instant.

    4. Very traditionally, you never do a test ‘for the sake of it’ – you must always have a clinical reason. This is mainly to guard against finding incidentalomas and other spurious pathology that is of no concern to the patient whatsoever, and ties in with (1) you treat the patient and (2) you have to be ill to be ill. Some extend this even further: you never do a test unless it will affect how you manage (manage here is the medical catch-all phrase for your proposed plan of what to do) the patient eg if you will do Y, whatever the x-ray shows, then you don’t do the x-ray.

    5. Proper physics is rigorous and often fascinating, and 99% is beyond Dr No’s ken. Predictive modelling (as opposed to fitting a model to real world data and then stopping there – ie no extrapolation) is numerology, and is rife in the subject invented to make astrology look rigorous. It has leached out into far too many other fields, notably epidemiology.

    6. Proper epidemiology is as its name suggests, the study of epidemics, (and so what causes them), and is a respectable subject. It includes not just infectious disease, but also non-infectious disease, eg diet and heart disease. It is, unless the findings are blindingly obvious, notorious hard to do well. That’s why one year eggs will kill you, the next it is go to work on an egg.

    So, with that little resume, we can see quickly see just how far Hanpoop’s vision for 21st Century medicine has strayed from traditional principles.

  10. carolyn_f Reply

    Dr No, absolutely; in your world that’s how to proceed, correctly, ethically and get, on the whole, good results. In that world view we don’t need Covid passports for day-to-day use because they become redundant, unnecessary; and I am in there with you. However, I suspect the terrain has substantially shifted and my (our?) map no longer fits. Cognitive dissonance?

    In Matt’s world, maybe his utterances reflect that the Government is hell-bent on fixing the change of terrain into our psyche and reallocating a lot of dosh from our pockets to that of their Friends?

    Imagine, and Matt and Friends are most likely ahead of me here, by the time we get to Variant of Concern (VoC) SARS-CoV-2, subset GB VoC 57a-z, which contains very bad – highly contagious and very transmissible – VoCs we will have been up-regulated via vaccine to meet these threats numerous times (big plus for pharmas). Each time our electronic passport will have to be altered… and for which we may have to pay the data contractor (who could be anyone of Matt’s tech friends). Because…

    Matt and Friend’s new normal: if you want a job on a building site you have to prove that you’ve been vaccinated or have antibodies not only to the latest Covid mutation (for which in its generosity the Government pays) but also that you’ve been vaccinated against, polio, measles and what-have-you; that you have good status re anti-tetanus, HepB, tuberculosis, and whatever else Matt and Friends decide to make relevant to working on a building site in close proximity to others. Plus ditto for every other job-type application.

    Hence, the new British way: if in doubt, get a test (to get the job, or the privilege, or access to [fill in blank].)

    Of course, you will need to pay for much of it… and have your electronic passport updated; perhaps by another set of data controllers all of whom have access to your every move via one of Matt’s smart apps. Maybe there is no end to that kind of ‘controlling the ants’ thinking among the Social Insights Team (nudge group) at the centre of Government?

    I am just listening Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman; I’m only part way through but – looking around me – it seems that en-masse we have become lazy, increasingly Type 1 brained. If so, perhaps that side of our brain is being skillfully manipulated (primed) while our Type 2 brain tells us that such priming – nudging – can’t be true of us because such blatantmanipulation is outwith our subjective experience?

    I noted down what was said in chapter 4 because it seemed so pertinent: “the evidence from priming studies suggests that reminding people of their mortality increases the appeal of authoritarian ideas which may become reassuring in the context of the terror of death.” As the author goes on to note: disbelief (about priming) is not an option because the studies are not flukes; and thus they are true of all of us. Which, methinks, is a big bonus for the folks running the Government’s nudge unit.

  11. JonBe Reply

    Interesting post Dr No.

    Speaking of Ants, they’ve got interesting strategy :

    1° : Trophallaxie (Jabot social in french). The social “crop” is in the ant a second stomach making it possible to store predigested food for the exclusive use of other workers who do not have the time or the means to go and feed themselves, or even larvae. (Definition from French wikipedia)
    -> Do human use this (& wisely) ? If so, could it have limited the expansion of the syndemy (a term used by a French writer who see the “pandemic” as a disease of the fragility of the social interstice of the modern Society) ?

    2° Stigmergy. It is an indirect coordination mechanism between agents. The principle is that the trace left in the environment by the initial action stimulates a subsequent action, by the same agent or a different agent. In this way, successive actions tend to reinforce each other and thus leading to the spontaneous emergence of coherent, seemingly systematic activity. (Definition from French wikipedia)
    -> Do human use this (& wisely) ? Do we learn enough from our mistakes and successes through time, & space & our various experiences ? Is the information left in the various fields relevant, clear, transparent and useful ?

    What if humans open a little more their eyes on the wisdom and knowledge of Nature, instead of neglecting and destroying it, us included ?

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