It looks as though vaccine passports could be on the cards until the threat of Covid-19 recedes.
At a press conference on Monday evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the principle of requiring someone to have a certificate to prove they would not pass on the disease “can be a sensible one”. However, the PM said vaccine passports were “a way off”.
In addition to Johnson’s comments, government documents released last night revealed the Covid-status passports “could play a role in reducing social-distancing requirements” in hospitality venues.
Johnson faces a battle if he plans to introduce the Covid certificates; more than 70 MPs – 41 in the Conservative party – have signed up to a campaign against the proposed internal Covid vaccine certificates.
So what’s going on, and where do we go from here?
Firstly, what is a vaccine passport?
Vaccine passports, or Covid status certificates, could potentially be used to show whether people have been vaccinated, recently tested, or have “natural immunity”, having tested positive in the previous six months, according to a government paper on the work of the lockdown taskforces.
The eight-page report said Covid status certification, which could be a mobile phone app or a paper document, “is likely to become a feature of our lives until the threat from the pandemic recedes”.
Vaccine passports are not exactly a new idea. They already apply to intercontinental travellers who may require evidence of Yellow fever immunisation to enter designated countries.
Why do we need them?
They are being looked at by a panel led by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove as a way of allowing society to return to normal while minimising the risk of another wave of cases.
Where could they be used?
As per last night’s government documents, vaccine passports “could play a role” in hospitality venues, like theatres, nightclubs and mass events. They might also be used in pubs and restaurants to reduce social distancing restrictions.
Ministers insist Covid status certificates will never be required for essential services such as supermarkets, public transport or GP surgeries.
The Government has announced pilots to test the use of Covid certificates for mass gatherings from sporting events to nightclubs.
Spectators at events over the coming weeks, such as the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield and the FA Cup final at Wembley on May 15, will be required to be tested for Covid-19 both before and after the event. They will not, however, have to show proof of vaccination for now.
Will I need a vaccine passport to go to the pub later this month?
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said that coronavirus certificates will not be required for when hospitality reopens outdoors next week, or when it reopens indoors in May.
What about for foreign travel?
The Prime Minister has previously indicated that vaccine proof will be likely for those wanting to travel internationally.
Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that several other countries are also looking at “the role of vaccination passports for overseas travel”, which is “going to be a fact of life, probably”
When could vaccine passports be introduced?
Johnson has stressed that the government has not finalised any plans, with the review expected to be completed in the summer.
Ministers have said any proposal would need to be voted through by Parliament, which could prove tricky, given the level of opposition from MPs from various parties.
Why are they considered controversial?
There are concerns about forgery and privacy and discrimination when it comes to vaccine passports.
There are also fears such a policy could further damage already crippled sectors. A flash survey carried out by the Night Time Industries Association this morning showed more than 70 per cent of firms in the hospitality sector opposed the introduction of domestic vaccine passports, and said it would damage business.
Elsewhere, Zahawi said the use of coronavirus certificates domestically raises “difficult ethical questions” and the plans have been criticised by some.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told BBC Breakfast that Labour is “very sceptical” and wants more details about how they would work. He suggested it would be “discriminatory” to require someone to produce a vaccination certificate as a condition of entry to shops, such as Next or H&M.
Senior Tory Mark Harper, chairman of the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group, warned that Covid status certification “will lead to a two-tier Britain”.