Vaccine passports: Covid status checks to become ‘feature of our lives’
Covid status checks are likely to become “a feature of our lives” until the pandemic recedes, the Government has said.
There was nothing stopping businesses checking the Covid status of customers provided they were not breaking equalities laws, the Government argued, as it opened the door to companies across the country using them.
It also rejected calls for an outright ban on Covid status certificates – which have widely been dubbed ‘Covid vaccine passports’ – saying that would be an “unjustified intrusion” on businesses.
The new position was outlined in an update on four reviews into areas where Covid continues to impact the functioning of normal life, which was published today.
A Covid status certificate would show one of three things: that a person has taken a Covid vaccine, a negative result from a lateral flow or PCR test that day or the day before; or proof of natural immunity, such as a positive PCR test in the past six months.
The Government is looking at converting an existing NHS app for smartphones and tablets so that it can show reliable proof of such results, but would also offer a paper version for people without such devices.
The document makes clear that the Government believes Covid status checks could “play a role” in reopening theatres and nightclubs as well as spectator events, such as festivals or sports events, because it would help manage the risk of virus spread.
It also says that there are some areas where the Government believes Covid status checks should “never be required” such as “essential public services, public transport and essential shops”, an apparent reference to supermarkets and pharmacies.
The document says that “it is possible” that Covid status checks could “play a role in reducing social distancing requirements” in these environments, meaning a pub could potentially operate at a higher capacity if it carried out status checks on customers.
However, the document states that ministers have not yet reached conclusions. For now, such Covid checks will not be required for pubs that are reopening outdoors on April 12 and then inside on May 17 at the earliest. Instead, normal social distancing rules apply.
The clearest indication about the scale of checks that are likely to be seen across the UK in the coming months comes in a paragraph near the beginning of the document that lays out the Government’s broad approach.
“Even without government intervention, Covid-status certification is likely to become a feature of our lives until the threat from the pandemic recedes,” the paragraph begins.
It explains that proving your Covid status for international travel is likely because other countries are already pursuing such schemes and already scores of nations – including Britain – demand negative tests before arrival.
The document then outlines how in a domestic context, businesses are also able to carry out such checks, providing equalities laws are not breached.
“Likewise, in the UK, businesses and other organisations are able to ask customers for proof of Covid status in order to access their premises, as long as they are compliant with equalities legislation,” the key sentences read.
“The Government believes that introducing a ban on this would in most cases be an unjustified intrusion on how businesses choose to make their premises safe – although, as set out below, there may be exceptions where the Government needs to intervene to ensure equitable access to essential services.
“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 position – that scores of UK businesses are effectively free to carry out Covid checks providing they breach no equalities laws, and that the UK Government will not for the most part attempt to block such moves – will likely be challenged by critics over the coming days.
Pub industry chiefs have argued that allowing landlords to carry out such checks if they want to, while not giving them guidance on whether that should happen, could effectively encourage them to do so.
Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said in an interview with The Telegraph last week that he was against the principle of letting pub landlords and others decide whether to oppose such checks, rather than the Government telling pubs what to do.