The government has said it will « never » introduce Covid-19 vaccine passports as a condition of accessing essential shops, public services, or trains and buses.
Four simultaneous reviews commissioned by Boris Johnson are looking at whether vaccination or immunity certificates could be needed for travel, as a condition of accessing certain businesses, or to attend large events.
While the reviews are still ongoing, the commissions released an interim report on Monday ruling out certain settings where ministers believe requiring certificates would always be inappropriate.
« The government believes that there are some settings (such as essential public services, public transport and essential shops) where COVID-status certification should never be required, in order to ensure access for all, » the report says.
But the interim report conversely says Covid certification “could potentially play a role” in settings such as theatres, nightclubs, and “mass events such as festivals or sports events”.
This would “help manage risks where large numbers of people are brought together in close proximity”, it argues.
The certification policy is also being considered as a way of easing social distancing requirements in pubs and restaurants, but the government says it has not yet made a decision.
Such a certification could be “acquired through vaccinations, testing or natural immunity”, the document says. Anyone who has had the virus in the previous six months could be considered to have natural immunity, the review adds.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday afternoon, Boris Johnson described the review’s interim report as “early thinking” and stressed that it would not apply to the planned stages.
He said: “There is absolutely no question of people being asked to produce certification or a Covid status report when they go to the shops or the pub garden or the hairdressers on Monday.
“Indeed, we’re not planning that for step three either. May 17, as you know, we’re hoping to go for the opening of indoor hospitality – we’re not planning for anything of that kind at that stage.”
The prime minister promised MPs a vote on any plans if they were ever brought forward. The idea of domestic vaccine passports has been controversial with many MPs, with opposition and Tory backbenchers joining forces in criticising the idea of on civil liberties grounds.
Labour has expressed its “many reservations” over the scheme, with shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth warning that people may feel they were being forced into having a jab.
“All the evidence has always suggested that if you want to maintain confidence in vaccination, that you don’t make it compulsory, don’t force people to be vaccinated – you encourage people, you persuade people,” he said.
“My worry with what the government are suggesting is they are effectively trying to force people into taking a vaccine and I think in the end that will be counterproductive.”
The prime minister accepted that there are “complicated, ethical and practical issues” at play with regards to the concept of Covid status certification.
« Because for vaccination, using vaccination alone, many people will be for one reason or another unable to get a vaccine for medical reasons, for instance or, or perhaps because they’re pregnant or whatever,” he added.
« So you’ve got to be very careful in how you handle this and don’t start a system that’s that discriminatory.
« But obviously we’re looking at it, we want to be going ahead in the next few weeks with some test events or pilot events which which you can see in the in the roadmap that we’ve that we’ve laid out. »
Experts have also raised concern over the feasibility of enshrining vaccine passports into UK law.
Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said the scheme would “enormous scrutiny ».
« I find it difficult to have the vaccine passport conversation, and I’ve had quite a lot of these discussions of policy advice level, without getting into the detail because who of us wouldn’t think that vaccine passports were in general, a good thing, if people felt a bit safer and more people were vaccinated and we had more assurance of that?” he told Times Radio.
« And yet, one or two sentences into discussion you get rather sort of bogged down at the devil is in the detail, and there are an awful lot of confounders there where you could make some very, very poor legislation. »
Following the PM’s announcement on Monday, NHS Providers, which represents all English health trusts, warned there was still “a long way to go” in bringing Covid-19 under control.
“We can’t let our guard down yet and we must be ready for a possible spike in Covid-19 cases in the coming weeks,” said deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery. « Covid-19 is still here, it’s still highly contagious, and people are still losing their lives to this terrible disease.”