The UK government had earlier proposed that July 19 would mark the end of all COVID-19 restrictions. Speaking at the House of Commons, health secretary Sajid Javid confirmed the plan but with an added condition. He said that the government will encourage businesses like restaurants, pubs, and public venues to use vaccine passports to decide customer participation.
“We are publishing a plan… showing the safe and gradual approach that we’ll be taking throughout the summer… It includes details of how we’ll be encouraging business and large events to use certification in high-risk settings to limit the risk of spreading the infection,” Javid said at the House of Commons.
The certification would prove whether the person has been fully vaccinated, has a negative COVID-19 test result, or has developed natural immunity from contracting the coronavirus. The health secretary said that businesses will soon be receiving further details on the vaccine passport plan. He assured that all restrictions on social distancing will be lifted on Monday, July 19. The government will continue recommending the use of face masks in crowded places like public transportation.
“In autumn, vaccine passports could become an important tool that will allow us to keep things open,” a government insider told The Times. “If we can show real benefits of getting vaccinated in terms of everyday life then it could be quite a useful tool,” another government source stated.
According to the media outlet, the government is not considering COVID-19 passports for this month since the younger sections of the population have not had the time to get two doses of the vaccines. But by September, when all adults are expected to have been offered an opportunity to get fully vaccinated, the COVID-19 passports could be introduced.
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A July 12 guidance issued by the UK government states that the NHS COVID Pass would be encouraged among businesses and in large events.
The pass can be obtained two weeks after taking the second COVID-19 vaccine shot. Those who have a negative PCR test or lateral flow test result during the past 48 hours can also get a pass. However, it will lapse 48 hours after the test result. People with positive PCR test results in the last six months can secure a pass that will last for 180 days. At present, citizens under the age of 16 cannot get the pass since they are not being vaccinated.
“The Government will work with organizations where people are likely to be in close proximity to others outside their household to encourage the use of this (NHS COVID pass). If sufficient measures are not taken to limit infection, the Government will consider mandating certification in certain venues at a later date,” the guidance states.
In an interview with BBC Radio 4 back in March, Professor Stephen Reicher, who advises the government, had warned against using vaccine passports in a way that could affect people’s daily lives.
“People actually aren’t averse to vaccine passports to be able to travel internationally… But when it comes to negative incentives—to, in effect, barring people from their everyday lives, from social activity, then actually they work in a very different way,” Reicher said.
The professor also said that vaccine passports could result in “social division and social apartheid,” which could end up destroying “any sense of community that has been so positive in the pandemic.”
A report published by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee in June warned that there is “no justification for introducing a Covid-status certification system.” It stated that vaccine passports can result in discrimination based on race since vaccination rates have been found to be lower among Black, Asian, and other minority ethnic groups. In addition, passports can also lead to discrimination on the basis of age, religion, and socio-economic background.
“The Government has so far failed to make the scientific case for the introduction of a Covid-status certification,” the report said.
Meanwhile, England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty warned that the UK will not return to the “status quo” until next spring; COVID-19 restrictions could once again be imposed in the winter season.
“I think we’ve got this current wave, hopefully there will be a period of quieter Covid after that, and then it will still be quite a difficult winter, especially for the NHS—then by next spring I’m hoping slightly more into a more predictable pattern,” Whitty said while speaking at an annual conference of the Local Government Association (LGA).
At least 67.59 percent of the UK population has received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of July 10. Fully vaccinated is at 51.21 percent. In total, the UK has registered 5.15 million coronavirus cases. More than 4.36 million people have recovered from the infection while 128,431 people have died.