Boris Johnson to give go-ahead for trials of Covid passports
Football cup finals, the World Snooker Championship, a comedy club and a cinema will be used to test vaccine passports over the next few weeks, as the government unveils its route out of lockdown.
The pilot venues will be unveiled on Monday by the prime minister, Boris Johnson, with the NHS drawing up a system that will allow people to use an app or a paper certificate to gain access to major events and reduce social distancing measures.
However, with details of the certificate system still being finalised, Johnson continues to face a mounting political backlash over the use of vaccine passports in the UK. Some MPs are examining whether they could force a vote on the issue. On Monday, Johnson will reassure people that the passports should not be used on public transport or essential shops.
The system being piloted will take account of whether someone has had a vaccination, a recent negative test, or natural immunity after a positive test in the last six months. The pilot events begin in less than two weeks. They will first be deployed at the Hot Water Comedy Club, Liverpool, on 15 April. Others include an FA Cup semi-final and the final; the Carabao Cup final; the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield; the Luna Cinema, Circus Nightclub and a business event in Liverpool, and a running event in Hatfield.
Evidence from the trials will be used to inform the wider use of passports. There will also be safeguards to ensure that those who cannot receive the vaccine for health reasons are not discriminated against.
Johnson insisted the country had made “huge strides” in dealing with the pandemic. He said: “We are doing everything we can to enable the reopening of our country so people can return to the events, travel and other things they love as safely as possible, and these reviews will play an important role in allowing this to happen.”
News of the trial events comes as senior Tories among a cross-party group have declared they will oppose the use of vaccine certificates, with 72 MPs signing a pledge to oppose the “divisive and discriminatory” scheme. Some have described their use as the creation of “checkpoint Britain”. A government scientific adviser has also warned that they could give people a false sense of security.
The size of the rebellion could create problems for the government, should it conclude that legislation is needed to introduce Covid passports. Labour has not yet made its official position clear and is waiting to see the details, but leader Keir Starmer has already described the concept as “un-British”.
Ministers will use the trial events to see if the certificates could be deployed in other settings. They will not be required in pubs, restaurants and non-essential retail, but Whitehall insiders fear many businesses will set up their own systems.
Reviews are also taking place into international travel and social distancing measures. While international travel can only begin from 17 May at the earliest, it is likely to be delayed. A traffic-light system will be used to make it easier for people to travel to lower-risk countries with high vaccination rates, such as the United States and Dubai.
There will be no isolation requirement for travel from countries in the new “green” category, but pre-departure and post-arrival tests will be needed. The “red” and “amber” locations will see restrictions remain as they are now, with quarantine or self-isolation required upon return.
Andrew Bud, founder of the biometrics company iProov, which has been involved in Covid certificate trials, said it was imperative that the process of checking credentials was “inclusive, convenient, secure, and respects people’s privacy, or [it] just won’t sustain public confidence”.
“Forgeries I think is a real risk,” he told the BBC. If they were allowed to happen, he said “I think it would fatally undermine public confidence in the scheme”.
“That’s why we think that the master credential itself must be stored online. The paper credential actually would be little more than just a serial number. In our model, people could actually just turn up and give the venue their number, then the venue would check the person against the photograph.”