Mirror Online: LONDON, England – Controversy over planned coronavirus ‘passports’ is mounting as Boris Johnson prepares to update the nation on Easter Monday.
That paves the way for pubs, restaurants and theatres to reopen without social distancing once everyone has been offered a jab.
But Boris Johnson has veered wildly on the topic of so-called vaccine passports.
First they were “discriminatory” and wrong. Now the government is deep in talks on them.
First you wouldn’t need them to go to the pub. Now Boris Johnson has suggested they might have a role to play there too.
And first they were aimed only at proving you’ve had a test, not a vaccine. Now the PM “wants vaccine passports to happen”, according to Spectator editor Fraser Nelson.
The only thing we know for sure is that there’ll be some kind of scheme to show you’ve been vaccinated to take a foreign holiday. When it comes to domestic ‘passports’, things are very much up in the air.
So what exactly is a COVID passport and what might Boris Johnson announce on Monday? Here’s what you need to know.
What is a Covid passport?
It’s a vague term given to a whole range of things that could show if you’re “safe” to enter a venue, event, job or foreign holiday.
Tory minister Michael Gove is leading a review into exactly what format so-called “certification” should take and an update is due on Monday.
Officials have been looking at re-engineering the NHS Covid-19 app to allow them to show your COVID status.
There’s been speculation it could mean having to show you’ve been vaccinated, such as on the NHS Covid-19 app, to get into a pub.
But the PM has indicated it could be vaguer or more wide-ranging than this.
Boris Johnson said certification could refer to either a vaccine, or whether you’ve had a recent rapid test, or your antibody status – or a combination of the three.
That might mean people taking rapid tests before going to gigs or sports events, rather than having to show they’re vaccinated.
When will they be introduced?
Trials are due to begin as soon as this month, with the FA Cup final in May and world snooker championships from mid-April tipped to be among the pilot events for a study on bringing back crowds.
But these might for example involve asking people to test themselves before a specific event, rather than carrying around their vaccine status.
There would be clear difficulties in rolling out a full-blown vaccine passport scheme so soon, especially when most under-50s haven’t had their first dose.
Why is the PM being so vague?
Because he’s facing a revolt from both left and right that could wipe out his Commons majority.
The Conservative leader faced fresh warnings the measure would be “dangerous, discriminatory and counter-productive” – and the move could be derailed by a growing revolt from a cross-party group of MPs.
Ex-Shadow Attorney General Baroness Shami Chakrabati, a former director of civil liberties group liberty, claimed passports would be “dangerous, discriminatory and counter-productive”.
Keir Starmer has also left the door open to fighting any domestic scheme in Parliament – which if combined with Tory rebels could wipe out the PM’s majority.
Shadow business minister Lucy Powell said some ideas around passports go against “our British instincts and our values.”
Hospitality bosses also spoke out against the plan. British Beer and Pub Association chief executive Emma McClarkin said: “This will be an additional burden that’s put on to the pubs. We will play our part in Test and Trace but the additional burden of the vaccine passport could really, really scupper things.” But experts believe they would help restart the economy.
Will I need one to travel?
Yes, this is by far the most likely scenario.
Once it’s no longer illegal to go on holiday, Brits will want to escape lockdown by heading to sun-kissed beaches abroad.
But they may well find the countries they’re heading to are in a very different Covid position to the UK, and are demanding proof that holidaymakers have been vaccinated.
Matt Hancock said the UK is working on a system to give this proof, like people already can with a yellow fever certificates.
Will I need one to go to the pub?
Here’s where it gets complicated.
The UK government previously said it had absolutely no plans for a vaccine passport to let you go to the pub. But that clear message has since been watered down and muddied.
And that is because pubs are private businesses and may choose to impose their own entry rules, regardless of what government does.
Because of this, there needs to be some kind of system that avoids a total free-for-all by individual firms.
Will I need one to do my job?
Again, this one is difficult.
The government previously insisted there are no plans to have a state-run vaccine passport scheme, allowing you into certain jobs.
But some firms have already said they will ban employees who don’t get the vaccine, regardless of what the government says.
There are particular concerns about social care. Care home firm Barchester said earlier this year: “Our current position is that we are will not hire someone who has refused to have the vaccine on non-medical grounds.
“We have not said that we will sack staff who refuse the vaccine on non-medical grounds; instead we have brought in behavioural nudges which we hope will encourage staff to be cognisant of the responsibility we have to protect our residents and relatives.
“Staff can make their own choice about whether to have the vaccine but we strongly encourage it.”
Pimlico Plumbers boss Charlie Mullins has said he’ll rewrite contracts to require employees to get the vaccine, adding: “If people don’t want the vaccine, let them sit at home and not have a normal life.”
He predicted that in five or six months, “to go into a bar or cinema, or go on a plane, you have to have a vaccine”.
Will I need one to go to individual events?
One-off big events like gigs, sporting fixtures and festivals seem like the most likely use of a Covid passport scheme.
But again, it’s not yet clear what form this will take – whether it’s proof you’ve had a test, or a full-blown vaccine passport.
Boris Johnson previously suggested it would involve people testing themselves within a set period of going to the theatre, for example. But government thinking is changing all the time, so we may need to wait until Monday.