There are “deep and complex issues” with using vaccine passports or certificates to prove someone’s Covid “status”, Boris Johnson has said.
Announcing a review of the proposal, he said using certificates to allow visits to venues such as pubs and theatres was a “novelty for our country”. Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove will lead the review. Mr Johnson said he was “very optimistic” most Covid restrictions in England can be lifted on 21 June. Vaccine passports have been discussed by countries, including Greece, and operators such as Saga Cruises, as a way to safely reopen international leisure travel. But ministers have frequently appeared to dismiss introducing a similar scheme domestically within the UK for hospitality or leisure activities. It comes as Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said – if all goes to plan – she expects to see a phased but significant re-opening of the Scottish economy in the last week of April.
A further 8,489 coronavirus cases were recorded across the UK on Tuesday and 548 more people have died within 28 days of a positive test – taking the total by that measure to 121,305. More than 17.9 million people across the UK have now received at least one vaccine dose, according to latest government figures. Speaking during a visit to a south London school, Mr Johnson said the UK had “never thought in terms of having something that you have to show to go to a pub or a theatre”.
He said there were “ethical issues” about the role of government “in mandating… or banning people from doing such a thing”. He added: “We can’t be discriminatory against people who can’t have the vaccine, there might be a medical reason, or some people may genuinely refuse to have one – I think that’s a mistake.” But the prime minister said it was possible to consider the issue at the same time as the rollout of the vaccine. It is understood the review will not just consider vaccination history alone, with the possibility of negative Covid tests being recorded to gain access to some events or services, if required by the organisers.
One option could see the NHS app used to record both, with an individual then able to show their status on the app if required. The government previously said it would consider how to facilitate Covid certificates for people who needed to travel to other countries which demanded them. The review’s findings are hoped to be available before the final stage of England’s lockdown easing on 21 June, the earliest date by which ministers hope most Covid measures can end.
BBC political correspondent Jessica Parker said the review marked a change of position from ministers but that, with businesses already looking at ways they could keep workers and customers safe, the government was looking to get ahead of things. “The conversation was just happening anyway. Businesses were looking at ways to make their workplaces safe, organisations were looking at ways to try to make their customers safe and the government risked not being part of that conversation but eventually being brought into it anyway,” she said.