Plans to force Britons to prove they have been vaccinated or do not have Covid to help reopen the night-time economy will not save the summer, experts said today.
Ministers have now announced a review into the use of controversial ‘immunity passports’ after months denying that they planned to introduce them.
Boris Johnson said he wanted to determine whether ‘Covid-status certificates’ could help theatres, cinemas, sporting venues and workplaces to open again.
But Sir Jonathan Montgomery, who has led an evidence review into vaccine passports, said the idea would come too late to save summer because people would need two jabs to qualify and most young people won’t have both until the autumn.
The University College London professor of healthcare law told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that there were three problems his research team had identified.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured in the House of Commons yesterday) said he wanted to determine whether ‘Covid-status certificates’ could help theatres and cinemas to open again
An illustration of an example of a Covid-19 vaccination certificate which could be used
He said: ‘The first is the scientific one – does it work, and that all depends on this information about risk of transmission. The second is a timing issue.
‘We need to reopen the economy as quickly as it’s safe to do so, and vaccine passports are not going to be useful until people have had their second vaccine.
No foreign travel for Britons before May 17… but we won’t know for sure until mid-April
Summer holidays abroad could begin from May 17 – but people won’t know if they will be able to get away until April.
A taskforce will report on when international travel can restart by April 12, the Prime Minister said yesterday.
But whatever its findings, curbs cannot begin being lifted earlier than May 17.
The travel industry last night said the blueprint would boost people’s confidence to book foreign summer holidays and allow the hard-hit sector to prepare for a summer reopening.
Announcing the roadmap in the Commons, Boris Johnson said there was ‘every chance of an aviation recovery later on this year’.
The document also made clear talks with foreign officials over possible ‘vaccine passports’ to get Britons flying again will be ramped up.
But it said restarting international travel will depend on the prevalence of Covid strains and their impact on vaccine effectiveness.
It said: ‘The Government does not expect this solution to be available quickly, and restrictions like those in place across the world are likely to continue for the near future.’
Greece, Spain and Cyprus have so far expressed interest in a vaccine certification system.
The travel industry welcomed the plans but renewed calls for the furlough scheme and business rates relief to be extended.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, the trade body for UK-registered carriers, said: ‘This will provide much needed reassurance not only to airlines in desperate need of a summer season, but families looking to visit friends and family and take a long-awaited holiday, and we know there is enormous pent-up demand for when we can restart operations.’
Foreign travel is currently allowed only for essential reasons such as work.
‘So it’s not something that’s going to solve the problem for summer 2021, because even on the fantastic achievements that we’ve had, the population that is going to use nightclubs is not going to have had its two vaccinations until at least the autumn, and we need everything open before then if we can.
‘And then the third question is who gets excluded by this – so if you haven’t been able to get the vaccine, you get excluded; if you for whatever reason are not appropriate to have the vaccine, or you have objections to using the vaccine, you get excluded; and those things are likely not to be evenly distributed across society.’
Sir Jonathan added that there were also ‘knock-on effects’, saying: ‘Now if this was the only way of getting the clubs open, then we might trade off the intrusions into privacy, but if there are other ways of doing it, then we probably wouldn’t want to have private information shared unnecessarily.’
The Prime Minister has confirmed that a study into vaccine and testing certificates would be one of four major reviews carried out alongside the easing of lockdown restrictions.
This is despite vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi repeatedly denying that there were plans to introduce them, saying they were ‘discriminatory’.
Asked about Covid status certificates, Peter Marks, chief executive of Deltic Group, Britain’s largest nightclub operator, told BBC Radio 4: ‘I think at least it’s workable.
‘About a week ago I was asked the question on whether it was sensible to have these flow tests at the front door, waiting 30 minutes in the queue. I just laughed at the idea, it just is unworkable.
‘But this sort of thing is a sensible way of trying to balance that risk and reopen our businesses. It’s been very, very difficult – we’ve been closed fully since last March.
‘It’s going to be 15 months before we get open, from when we shut, and we’re willing to do what we can to try and make sure that our customers are safe.
‘And it’s quite interesting as well – it seems that the young people don’t seem to have too much of a problem about this. It’s some of the older generations – dare I say my age – that are a little bit more reluctant to have anything like this.
‘So we’ll look at it. We’ll test the waters, as it were, and if it’s sensible we’ll adopt it.’
Ministers had previously insisted the idea was being considered only to unlock foreign trips, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock suggesting that travellers could request a vaccination record from their GP to allow them to visit countries that required proof of inoculation status.
Professor Sir Jonathan Montgomery from University College London, who has led an evidence review into vaccine passports, said the idea would come too late to save summer
But Prime Minister Mr Johnson told Sky News at a school in South London today: ‘This is an area where were looking at a novelty for our country.
‘We haven’t had stuff like this before. We’ve never thought in terms of having something that you have to show to go to a pub or a theatre.
‘And so there are deep and complex issues that we need to explore, ethical issues about what the role is for government in mandating people to have such things or indeed banning people from doing such a thing.
‘There are complex issues that we need to work out. We can’t be discriminatory against people who for whatever reason can’t have the vaccine.
‘There might be medical reasons why people can’t have a vaccine, or difficulties, and some people may genuinely refuse to have one. I think that’s mistaken, I think everybody should have a vaccine, but we need to thrash all this out.
‘And we’ve got time, because what we’re doing is rolling out the vaccination programme, and that will go on for the next couple of months, and in the interval what I want to see is a proper review into the issue, and that’s going to be led by Michael Gove, by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who will be getting the best scientific, moral, philosophical, ethical viewpoints on it – and we’ll work out the way forward.
‘I know fervent libertarians will object, but other people will think that there is a case for it.
‘When you look at the international side of things, international travel, there’s no question that that’s where a lot of countries will be going, and they will be insisting on vaccine passports in the way that people used to insist on evidence that you’d been inoculated against yellow fever or whatever. So it’s going to come on the international stage, whatever.’
Mr Johnson’s announcement comes two months after the Daily Mail revealed that despite all the denials, the Government had signed two contracts with tech firms to develop an app that would allow users to prove they did not have Covid.
Steve Moore, co-founder of darts-based bar Flight Club in London, told Sky News today: ‘We can get going pretty quickly because we’ve done it three times now, so we’re geared up’
The contracts envisage a system under which individuals are assigned a QR code on their smartphones linked to a digital passport with photo ID.
Three months until indoor visits: No friends in homes until mid-May
Family and friends will not be able to visit each other’s homes before mid-May, Boris Johnson said yesterday.
Two households or a group of up to six people will be able to meet indoors from May 17 at the earliest.
Families may not be able to hug until after that date, when a major review of social distancing rules has concluded.
It is not until June 21 that all remaining restrictions on social contact should be lifted, with people able to mix freely for the first time since March last year.
Speaking at the Downing Street press conference last night, the Prime Minister acknowledged that the Covid rules ‘have separated families and loved ones for too long’.
He set out in his roadmap yesterday that advice on social distancing will be updated urgently.
‘As soon as possible, and no later than Step Three [May 17], the Government will update its advice on social distancing between friends and family, including hugging,’ it says.
‘Until then, people should continue to keep their distance from anyone not in their household or support bubble, and keep up habits such as regular hand washing and letting in fresh air.’
The roadmap notes that from mid-May the Government will ease limits on social contact and allow people to make their own decisions about seeing others.
It adds: ‘It will remain important for people to consider the risks for themselves, taking into account whether they and those they meet have been vaccinated or are at greater risk.’
The document also acknowledges ‘it may be possible to go further’ on indoor meetings, ‘depending on the data’. Two households or groups of up to six will be able to meet outside from March 29 and indoors from May 17.
Overnight stays at people’s houses will also be permitted from May 17.
After a Covid test they could present their code at a venue as proof of their negative status.
At the time, the Department of Health insisted: ‘There are no plans to introduce immunity passports.’
The other reviews will examine social distancing measures, including working from home, global travel and measures needed to run events with larger crowd sizes.
The findings of the vaccine passport probe are expected to be available before stage four of the lockdown easing on June 21.
Outlining the inquiries in the Commons yesterday, Mr Johnson said: ‘The third review will consider potential role of Covid status certification in helping venues to open safely. We are mindful of the many concerns surrounding exclusion, discrimination and privacy.’
Earlier this month the Government’s Sage advisers suggested passports may help.
‘Immunisation with a single standard dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine provides protection against infection for around seven out of ten people for at least 90 days,’ meeting notes said. ‘Certification of immunity for certain uses may therefore be desirable.’
However the scientists went on to warn of ethical issues and practical challenges such as how long the passports should remain valid.
The advisers concluded: ‘Certification could be used in addition to other measures used to control transmission and/or to enable the relaxation of certain measures, but it is an imperfect tool and a risk-based approach should be adopted.’
Speaking about the impact of lockdown on hospitality, which will only be allowed to reopen indoor venues on May 17 at the earliest, one business owner said the demand was ‘crazy’.
Steve Moore, co-founder of darts-based bar Flight Club in London’s Victoria, told Sky News today: ‘We can get going pretty quickly because we’ve done it three times now, so we’re geared up.
‘I think a lot of sectors already have spent a lot of money on making their venues safe, especially here where we’ve got lots of semi-private spaces.
‘We could be relaunching in 48 hours. I’ll be honest with you, the demand is crazy. Already we saw bookings flooding in last night for May and June.
‘So I think everybody is so ready to go, and as a business we’re certainly set up to go now, not in three months’ time.’
He added: ‘It’s pretty brutal to sit the hospitality industry so far behind non-essential retail considering how safe the sector has become.’