soldier coronavirus
© Reuters / Carl Recine
A soldier wearing a protective mask stands at the entrance of a coronavirus testing centre in Liverpool, Britain November 11, 2020
Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt wants Brits to take a monthly coronavirus test, with a negative result earning them "freedom passes." His idea angered some commenters, who called it "Orwellian."

Writing in The Times on Friday, Hunt described an effective vaccine as Britain's best shot at returning to normal life. However, the Conservative MP said that the country needs a "plan B" in the form of monthly tests for the whole population, with the freedom to live a normal life awarded only to those who show negative results.

Hunt suggested "offering people who comply with testing and isolation requirements a 'freedom pass' that removes the requirement to follow lockdown regulations." Slovakia rolled out a similar system less than a month earlier, with those testing negative earning a certificate exempting them from curfew.

Though Hunt described the passes as an incentive to boost the uptake in testing, normal life would be quite impossible without one. In his own words, these passes should be required by people who want "to go out, shop and go to work."

The idea didn't go down well on Twitter, with commenters accusing the Surrey MP of using "Orwellian doublespeak" to promote"fascism.""It's not a 'freedom pass,'" one wrote, "it's an 'enslavement pass.'"

Hunt also suggested that the government should use the NHS Covid app "to record who has been tested and who has received the vaccine." The MP has long been a proponent of using methods that critics call "mass surveillance" to stop the spread of Covid-19. In August, he backed a report by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change calling for the introduction of a "health passport that would provide evidence of an individual's Covid-19 status at any given time."

The idea of a health passport has found a receptive audience in Parliament, as the Daily Telegraph reported this week that officials want some kind of "digital immunity certificate" for those who receive a jab granting them access to concerts, football matches, and other events. Government advisers have also floated the idea of giving paper wristbands to people who have been tested, so they could "get back some freedoms if they test negative."

Hunt's proposal asks a lot of government. Ensuring that every Brit could get tested once per month would take half a million staff and 65,000 testing centres, he says. The UK currently conducts nearly 400,000 tests per day at hospitals and drive-in testing centres.

With vaccines still awaiting regulatory approval in the UK, Hunt argued that it would be possible with mass testing - and the ensuing licensing of freedom - to "return to some kind of normality" by Easter 2021.