Government to trial vaccine passports as PM confirms next stage of lockdown easing

Possible role for ‘Covid-status certification’ discussed as Cabinet Office review continues
Boris Johnson said trials will begin on a form of Covid status certification from later this month (Alamy)

By Alain Tolhurst

06 Apr 2021

The prime minister has confirmed people will have to prove they haven’t got coronavirus to attend sports matches, music festivals, theatres, night-clubs and other mass events.

A trial of systems of “Covid-Status Certification” will begin later this month after a Whitehall review into their use concluded they could “allow some freedoms to be restored more safely”.

Boris Johnson confirmed people will have to either show they have been vaccinated, have had a recent negative test, or prove they have “natural immunity”, having had a positive test within six months.

The government has ruled out using them in shops and on public transport, and the PM told a Downing Street press conference there was "absolutely no question" of people having to show a vaccine passport to go to the pub or hairdresser when lockdown eases next week.

"On Covid status certification, as we prefer to call it, the most important thing to say to everybody listening and watching is there's absolutely no question of people being asked to produce certification or a Covid status report when they go to the shops or to the pub garden or to their hairdressers or whatever on Monday,” he said.

"We are not planning that for stage three either – May 17 as you know we are hoping to go for the opening up of indoor hospitality and so on.

"We are not planning for anything of that kind at that stage.”

At a press conference yesterday, Johnson confirmed outdoor hospitality and non-essential retail can re-open from next week after the government’s four tests to move to the next stage of the roadmap to unlock have been met.

He said significant parts of the indoor economy can also welcome customers again from 12 April as coronavirus cases and deaths continue to fall.

He said: "The net result of your efforts and of course the vaccine rollout is that I can today confirm that from Monday April 12, we will move to step two of our road map.

"Reopening shops, gyms, zoos, holiday campsites, personal care services like hairdressers and of course beer gardens and outdoor hospitality of all kinds.”

Johnson added: "And on Monday 12, I will be going to the pub myself and cautiously but irreversibly raising a pint of beer to my lips."

But the PM also urged caution, pointing out there are no changes to social contact rules and many restrictions will remain in place until at least 17 May.

"We think that these changes are fully justified by the data, which shows that we are meeting our four tests for easing the lockdown,” he said.

"But - and you know I'm going to say this - we can't be complacent.

"We can see the waves of sickness afflicting other countries and we've seen how this story goes.

"We still don't know how strong the vaccine shield will be when cases begin to rise, as I'm afraid they will, and that's why we're saying please get your vaccine or your second dose when the turn comes.”

But the documents released by the government yesterday set out the possible future role for “Covid-status certification” in “role in reducing social distancing requirements in other settings which people tend to visit more frequently, for example in hospitality settings”.

It added: “However, the government recognises this has significant implications for businesses and their customers, so this will be further considered in consultation with industry, as part of the review of social distancing rules and taking into account the equalities and other impacts.”

The government has said as other countries are already developing their own certification systems, such as the “Green Pass” in Israel and the “digital green certificate” in the European Union, its hand has been forced into creating one for the UK, despite opposition from many MPs.

It also ruled out banning firms from asking people to prove their Covid status, arguing it “would in most cases be an unjustified intrusion on how businesses choose to make their premises safe”. “It is therefore right that the government provides a means of easily demonstrating Covid-status, in order to ensure UK citizens and residents are not denied opportunities to travel or attend certain venues or events”, the document reads.

Further details of how and when the system will be implemented will be released in due course, including how the science behind system of proving “natural immunity” from antibodies works.

Work is also underway to use the existing NHS app to allow people to display their Covid status securely, and there will be a paper version available for non-smartphone users.

The review, which is being led by Michael Gove, will continue taking evidence ahead of a final recommendation later this spring and once a number of pilot events have taken place.

The government has said it “will ensure appropriate Parliamentary scrutiny”, and will present interim findings to the Commons later this month.

Alain Tolhurst is chief reporter at CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared.

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