What does the Covid vaccine passport scheme mean for you?

What does the Covid vaccine passport scheme mean for you?
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Boris Johnson is to set out plans for domestic Covid vaccine passports – yes, that thing that apparently wasn’t going to happen – as part of a string of measures to enable mass gatherings to resume as lockdown measures are eased.

The scheme – which No 10 is insisting is described as “Covid-status certification” – will look at whether a person has been vaccinated, had a recent negative test, or natural immunity.

Ministers say the scheme will be used at big events or venues – the likes of Glastonbury (ahh), Wembley and four-storey nightclubs. They’re not expected to be needed for visiting shops, pubs or restaurants, or going on trains and buses.

There are also plans for series of trial events, where officials will test out ways in which people can return to these venues in a safer way.

However, the plans have proved controversial, with many MPs deeply concerned about the implications for civil liberties – ie requiring people to prove whether they are clear of the disease in order to attend certain events.

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So what does this all mean for you? Here’s what we know so far:

What’s this all about?

There’s been a lot of discussion during the pandemic about vaccine passports – whether they’ll happen, the ethics around it, how it would actually work. It’s safe to say there hasn’t been much clarity – or uniformity – from ministers over it.

It’s now been confirmed that the Government IS looking to develop a scheme over the coming months that will see people be able to prove their status in relation to a vaccine, Covid test or antibodies, before they enter a large venue or attending a mass gathering.

Ministers say it’s all part of a move to get people back into certain venues as lockdown measures ease – while trying to reduce the transmission of Covid.

So... these are vaccine passports, right?

Basically, yes. Although the Government has described it as a “Covid status certification” scheme.

It’s likely the scheme will involve the use of the NHS app, although ministers acknowledge there will have to be an option for paper certificates for those who don’t use apps or mobile phones.

In developing the scheme, officials have said they will take into account three factors: whether an individual has received the vaccine, has recently tested negative for the virus, or has “natural immunity” having tested positive in the previous six months.

Officials are also said to be working with clinical and ethical experts to ensure there are “appropriate exemptions” for people who are advised to the vaccine and for whom repeat testing would be difficult.

Where will they be used?

Large events are the main area of focus, such as music festivals, sporting matches and nightclubs. Comedy clubs fall into that category, too.

The certification won’t be required – at least not at the moment – for shops, or going on public transport. It will also not initially apply to pubs and restaurants, which are due to reopen this month.

And what are the trials all about?

A host of pilot events begins in less than two weeks.

The trials are to explore, generally, how crowds can return to venues such as stadiums, comedy clubs and nightclubs. So it will look at the potential for vaccination certification, but will also look at how measures such as one-way systems, ventilation and hygiene can help.

Some of the listed events have already said they will not be trialling vaccination certification.

The first trial is due to take place on April 16 at the Hot Water Comedy Club in Liverpool with an audience of 300 to be followed two days later by the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley with a crowd of 4,000.

Other events where the scheme is to be tested include the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, running from April 17 to May 3, and a mass participation run at Hatfield House on April 24 and 25.

The pilots will culminate with the FA Cup final on May 15, again at Wembley but this time with a crowd of 21,000.

People attending the trials will have to adhere to an agreed code of behaviour when they purchase a ticket and to take a Covid test both before and after the event. They will be required to follow existing Government guidance, including wearing face coverings, and to provide contact details of everyone in their group for NHS Test and Trace.

What has the Government said?

Boris Johnson will set out more details on Monday, but several details were published in the Sunday papers.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, who has led the task force responsible for drawing up the plans, wrote in the Sunday Telegraph that the UK could take inspiration from a “vaccine passport” scheme already in use in Israel.

“The Israeli approach involves a smartphone app and the NHS app could serve a similar purpose here,” he said.

Gove did, however, acknowledge that it raised “a host of practical and ethical questions” which needed to be resolved before there could any wider rollout.

But he said that it was essential that the Government took the lead, otherwise venues and other businesses would simply begin setting up their own certification schemes.

“These questions aren’t easy to resolve but I don’t think we can duck them,” he said. “Unless the Government takes a lead we risk others establishing the rules of the road.”

Writing in The Mail On Sunday, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “We will examine the risks closely, plan to keep people safe, mitigate the dangers and, in doing, so we will be able to have spectators returning in full to events once more.

“Each successful pilot is a huge step forward towards the life we all miss sorely, every day.”

What are the objections?

More than 70 MPs, including 40 Conservatives, as well as peers from the House of Lords, have signed a pledge against the introduction of “vaccine passports” in England, claiming they would be “divisive and discriminatory”.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith and Jeremy Corbyn – names that aren’t often seen together – are among those who have signed.

Their concerns have been echoed by leading scientists, including infectious diseases expert Dr Mike Tildesley, who told the BBC he was “very much against the idea of domestic travel passports at the moment when a lot of people have not been able to have the vaccine and also we know that it’s very inconsistent across certain communities”.

He added: “I do realise we need some level of security to allow these events to reopen again. What we really need though is a fair system that isn’t discriminating against certain members of society.”

Baroness Chakrabarti told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s one thing to have a passport to travel internationally, that is a privilege, even a luxury, but participating in local community life is a fundamental right.”

What happens next?

Boris Johnson is due to announce further details on Monday.

He said: “We have made huge strides over the past few months with our vaccine programme and everyone in the country has made huge sacrifices to get us to this stage in our recovery from Covid-19.

“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.”

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