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Covid passports hang over trade

Published:  07 April, 2021

Covid passports could still be introduced at a later date for hospitality venues, a new government report has revealed, despite the Prime Minister ruling out their introduction for outdoor reopening over the next six weeks. 

On Monday’s statement, when it was confirmed that England would be moving to ‘step two’ of its roadmap out of the pandemic, Prime Minister Boris Johnson 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 to the pub garden” on Monday 12 April.

In a review published by government on the same day however, the government said Covid-status certification “could have an important role to play both domestically and internationally, as a temporary measure” from June onwards.

Passports or certification could also potentially “play a role” in large venues such as theatres and nightclubs, the report said.

It is also possible that “Covid-status certification could also play a role in reducing social distancing requirements in other settings which people tend to visit more frequently, for example in hospitality settings”.

In response to vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi’s statement yesterday that people “won't be asked for any form of certification” to go to the pub when venues reopen outdoors on 12 April and indoors on 17 May, UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said on Twitter: “This is very helpful – but the review doc published yesterday does still talk about their use in pubs & restaurants in removing social distancing. PM also refused to rule out future use yesterday. There is a huge [business] cost so Ministers must be clearer – is it just now, or never.”

The passports could lead to a “two tier Britain”, critics say, with the potential for discrimination possibly leaving some at a disadvantage.

There is also concern that businesses will be forced to rely on passports to be able to dispense with social distancing measures quicker.

“Another way of saying this is that pubs who do not comply with vaccine passports would be punished by having to reduce capacity long after second wave is over. This, at present, is where the roadmap seems to be heading,” The Spectator editor Fraser Nelson said on Twitter.

Nicholls responded: “This is the concern – accept passports and the significant costs of compliance with them (and the customer opprobrium) or live with having capacity and revenue suppressed below break even.”

This was not tenable given that the government’s business rates holiday ends on 30 June, she added.

There are currently two types of vaccine passports being considered in the UK. A domestic one would factor in both regular testing and vaccinations, while one for international travel would focus purely on vaccinations.

Both paper and digital options are being considered by the NHS, as per the report.

It would be “remiss” of the government not to consider Covid certification as a way of fully reopening the economy, Zahawi said yesterday.

However, the government says it recognises that “such measures have significant implications for businesses and their customers, so this will be further considered in consultation with industry,” the report read.