The UK government is considering introducing Covid vaccine passports as a temporary measure to allow society to return to normal without the need for social distancing.
The passports, or Covid status certificates, could potentially be used to show if a person has been vaccinated against coronavirus, had a recent negative test, or have ‘natural immunity’ having tested positive in the previous six months.
The certificates may be in the form of a mobile phone app, or a paper document, and could play a role in settings where there are large numbers of people, such as theatres, nightclubs, festivals and mass events.
A review into introducing the documents is being led by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, and the UK government has said it is working with colleagues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to agree a “consistent approach”.
How have businesses responded?
Ministers have insisted that the status certificates will never be required for essential services, such as supermarkets, public transport, or GP surgeries, but could be useful for managing the risks at mass events.
A series of pilot tests are being held over the coming weeks to trial the safe return of mass gatherings, including the FA Cup final at Wembley on 15 May, but attendees at these events will not be asked to show proof of vaccination at the moment.
While the documents are intended to allow a swifter and safer return to normality, the plans have not been welcomed by some businesses, with some arguing it is an invasion of privacy and would be very difficult to enforce.
Jasmine Birtles, 45, founder of MoneyMagpie.com, argued that as the Covid-19 vaccines are not 100 per cent effective, it is “utterly pointless” in asking people to show proof of a jab as it cannot stop people from spreading the disease.
Ms Birtles said: “All the vaccine can do, apparently, is stop the vaccinated having a really bad reaction to Covid-19.
“So having the vaccine is rather like wearing a seatbelt in the car. That helps the wearer but it does nothing for the person sitting next to them
“The negative test has rather more sense than the vaccine when it comes to events and venues except that, again, we know that these tests cannot be trusted.
“Most positives are false positives, so it’s quite likely that many people will be turned away even though they are not a danger to anyone else.
“I think there will be a lot of people who would keep away from venues that insisted on a vaccine passport. It’s better to tell the fearful ones that if they have the vaccine that is enough.”
While the government has said that introducing the certificates would be a temporary measure in returning society to normality, Ms Birtles said she is doubtful this will be the case and warned it could be harmful to people’s freedoms.
She added: “These ’temporary measures’ never are temporary. Remember ’two weeks to flatten the curve’? That turned into over a year.
“The idea of a ’temporary’ measure is just to get us used to doing it so that we don’t complain much when it is extended.
“Even bringing them in temporarily will be very harmful to democracy, freedom and civil society.”
Rachel Fletcher, partner and head of crime and regulatory at Slater Heelis, argued that it would be difficult to enforce Covid certificates at venues and events, and would require changes to existing law.
Ms Fletcher instead argues that people should be allowed to attend venues at their own risk, without requiring documentation, while event organisers and businesses should be given the freedom to make their own decisions in line with UK regulations.
She said: “It’s only sensible that customers can choose whether to frequent a venue based on the rules decided by the owners, but such a reactive response to their decision is not acceptable either and people should respect the difficult decision the venue or event organiser has made.
“Organisers and business owners should not be expected to police their customers.
“Businesses are simply not equipped to deal with the ever-changing rules and they would by default become subject to laws and governance of the Data Protection Act, which opens another can of worms and risk of breaches or improper use of the data.
“The best approach in my opinion is to say that those who are prepared to attend venues do so at their own risk with no passports. Social distancing and masks can be in place as an extra precaution.
“The vaccine means that the majority of the vulnerable are now protected - the mortality rate is less than 1 per cent - so it is a totally disproportionate use of powers to control the population and make business owners responsible for policing it.”
Testing could be the solution
Festival Republic, which is the promoter of major UK festivals including Reading and Leeds, Download, Wireless and V, has said that it would not be possible to hold festivals with social distancing in place and believes that testing could be the solution.
Mr Benn, managing director, argued that people should be tested before they arrive at an event and only those who return a negative result will be granted entry.
He said it is about creating a safe space where everyone attending has been tested and is therefore unable to transmit the virus to others, thereby eliminating the need for social distancing.
Such a plan is being put in place at a club night event later this month as part of government trials to enable the safe return of mass gatherings and indoor events.
On 30 April and 1 May, up to 6,000 people will pack into a warehouse at Bramley-Moore Dock in Liverpool for a Circus club event.
Club-goers will be subject to a Covid-19 lateral flow test before entering the club, which must be negative before they are allowed in, along with a second test to be taken after the event.
However, Liverpool City Council has confirmed that people will not be required to show Covid-19 vaccine passports, or proof of vaccination, on entry.
Club owner and DJ Yousef Zaher, best known as Yousef, said he believes some people might be “reluctant” and a bit cautious about returning to clubs, but thinks fears will be eliminated as a negative test is required to enter.
Yousef said the measures are “all for the greater good” and that it is a collaborative process to ensure events are safe to go ahead.