After months of speculation regarding whether Covid-status certificates – domestic vaccine passports – will come into force in the UK, it appears the government is taking steps to draw up a scheme. An official document published on Monday states a commitment to examining “whether and how Covid-status certification might be used to reopen our economy, reduce restrictions on social contact and improve safety”.
What are they and how would they work?
Under plans still in development the certificates would record whether someone has been vaccinated, has had a recent negative test, or has natural immunity. People who have tested positive for the virus within the past six months will potentially be considered to have natural immunity from the virus. The NHS is looking at how to offer both digital and non-digital certificates.
Government ministers are pushing the scheme, saying it could have an “important role to play both domestically and internationally, as a temporary measure” that would allow for higher-risk settings, such as concerts, nightclubs and sporting events, to go ahead safely.
However, there is controversy about them being used to control access to pubs, bars and restaurants. The report left this possibility open, saying banning their use in this way would be an “unjustified intrusion on how businesses choose to make their premises safe”. It also made clear they would not be required in essential shops, public service buildings or on public transport.
When would they come in to force?
Although there is no official date as yet for the plan being implemented, Boris Johnson told Monday’s Downing Street press briefing that vaccine passports would not be implemented in steps 2 and 3 of the roadmap to ease lockdown. That means not until 21 June at the earliest.
However, the government has indicated that some large-scale events taking place in a pilot scheme this month have been given the go-ahead to trial Covid certificates. However, there has been some confusion as to whether or not the certificates will actually be part of the trials, with some venues having rejected the suggestion they would require them.
What is the justification for using them?
One major reason cited is that they could play a role at mass events “to help manage risks where large people are brought together in close proximity”. The system has also been linked to a review in social distancing rules, with the government stating that “any relaxation in social distancing is linked to the questions being explored by the Covid-status certification review”.
Monday’s document points to similar schemes being brought in elsewhere – Israel’s “Green Pass” and the EU’s “digital green certificate” – and argues that even without government intervention, some way of demonstrating your coronavirus status to businesses “is likely to become a feature of our lives until the threat from the pandemic recedes”.
However, ministers can expect a backlash to the proposed Covid-certification system on civil liberties and equalities grounds, which may explain their reluctance to commit fully to one.
How much opposition is there?
A broad coalition of MPs from opposing parties have come together to strongly reject the idea of Covid certificates or passports. Over 70 MPs, including key members of Labour’s left such as Jeremy Corbyn, and senior Tories such as Iain Duncan Smith, have formed a parliamentary alliance to oppose Covid identity documents.
The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, has also expressed scepticism at the idea, adding that he believed “British instinct” would likely be against them.
Parliament will play an important role in whether Covid-status certificates will be able to go ahead, with the government stating that they will ensure “appropriate parliamentary scrutiny”, and that interim findings from the Covid-status certification review will be presented to MPs later this month. But for now, it seems likely that dozens of MPs will oppose the plan if put to a vote.