Covid passports: experts react to government's certificate plans - calling them ‘divisive and discriminatory’'

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Boris Johnson has said that Covid-status certification “will be useful”, particularly for international travel

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has suggested that domestic Covid vaccine passports could be introduced in the UK to allow entry to venues and travel abroad.

The UK government is understood to be planning a series of pilot tests for the passports, which may be used at the FA Cup final and other sporting events, entering hospitality venues like pubs and theatres, and to resume foreign holidays.

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Mr Johnson has said that such a document “will be useful” in the UK, adding that there will “definitely” be a role for vaccine passports for international travel going forward, and many countries are already working on this requirement.

Domestic Covid vaccine passports could be introduced in the UKDomestic Covid vaccine passports could be introduced in the UK
Domestic Covid vaccine passports could be introduced in the UK

While a vaccine passport scheme may allow the economy to open up safely again, the proposals have been met with backlash from some MPs, amid fears it could create a ‘two-tier’ society.

Here’s what MPs and travel experts have said about the plans.

What are the benefits of vaccine passports?

The Prime Minister has said that a Covid certification scheme could involve showing whether a person has been vaccinated against coronavirus, has immunity from previous infection, or has had a recent negative test.

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The idea behind the scheme is that it would give both firms and customers “maximum confidence” that a venue is safe for people to enter.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has suggested the passports could also be used “in the short term” to reopen theatres and sports stadiums”, as well as being used to open up foreign travel.

Including both Covid-19 vaccination status and recent negative test results is intended to help avoid discriminating against those who have declined the vaccine for health, or other, reasons.

The government is currently reviewing the issues and has insisted no final decisions have been made on whether Covid-status certification could play a role in reopening the economy.

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The news has been met with a mixed response from MPs, as well as the travel and hospitality industry.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UKHospitality, said that certification could pose a problem for frontline staff, but argued that international travel and major events are the “two areas where we think certification could really work”.

Ms Nicholls added that she hoped social distancing restrictions can be fully removed by 21 June without the need for vaccine certification.

Budget airline easyJet has agreed that vaccine passports are likely to play a part in foreign travel in the future, and welcomed the possibility of this allowing people to holiday again.

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A spokesperson said: “We don’t think the vaccination should be required for entry to a country, but where restrictions are in place vaccine passports could play a part in enabling more people to travel again with reduced or no restrictions.

“It is critical that this is implemented in a simple way to ensure it is easy for passengers.”

Travel firm TUI is also eagerly awaiting further information from the government regarding certification for travel, with the hope that such a scheme may enable holidays to take place this summer.

In a statement, the company said: “We remain committed to working closely with the government on the Global Travel Taskforce and look forward to understanding more about when international travel can take place when it reports on 5 and 12 April.

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“We believe holidays this summer will be possible, taking into account our outstanding vaccination programme and the use of testing where required.”

Could Covid passports be discriminatory?

More than 70 MPs, including 40 Conservatives and six ex-Cabinet ministers, as well as peers from the House of Lords, have all signed a pledge opposing the use of Covid-staus certification, branding the plans as “divisive and discriminatory”.

The pledge has been signed by former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Conservative former leader Sir Iain Duncan-Smith, Labour former shadow chancellor John McDonnell, ex-Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, and former director of Liberty, Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, along with a string of Tory former ministers.

Baroness Chakrabarti said: “International travel is a luxury but participating in your own community is a fundamental right. So internal Covid passports are an authoritarian step too far.

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“We don’t defeat the virus with discrimination and oppression but with education, vaccination and mutual support.”

The campaign has been backed by Big Brother Watch, Liberty, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) and Privacy International, which have argued introducing the scheme could risk creating a ‘two-tier’ society.

Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “Our common goal is to emerge from lockdown – healthy, safe and free. But we won’t arrive at freedom through exclusion.

“Covid passes would be the first attempt at segregation in Britain for many decades, dividing communities without reducing the risks.

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“We are in real danger of becoming a check-point society where anyone from bouncers to bosses could demand to see our papers. We cannot let this government create a two-tier nation of division, discrimination and injustice.”

The British Beer and Pub Association also expressed worries about vaccine passports preventing hospitality venues from opening, arguing that it would be discriminatory to customers.

Emma McClarkin, chief executive, told BBC Breakfast: “This would be an additional burden put on to the pubs. We are desperate to get back open again. We are desperate to do that.

“We will play our part in test and trace but the additional burden of the vaccine passport could really, really scupper things.

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“It could make it feel that we are discriminating against sections of the population that have not been offered a vaccination or are unable to have one, like pregnant women or a grandad who is probably going to forget his actual vaccine passport because he does not have it on his smartphone.

“It is a difficult process for us to implement in venues and yet today (2 April) we have not had a consultation with the government about how we would do this in pubs.”

Restrictions should not be permanent

While the government may argue that vaccine passports will enable society to return to normality safely, MPs have argued that permanent restrictions should not be put in place.

Sam Grant, head of policy and campaigns at Liberty, said: “We all want to get out of the pandemic as quickly as possible, but we need to do so in a way that ensures we don’t enter a ‘new normal’ which diminishes the rights and liberties we took for granted before the Covid crisis.

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“Any passport system has the potential to create a two-tier society, and risk further marginalising people who are already discriminated against and cut off from vital services.

“Vaccine passports would allow ID systems by stealth, entrenching inequality and division.”