Boris Johnson discusses vaccine passports for overseas travel
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A UK Government review into “Covid status certification” found they could “potentially play a role” in settings such as theatres, nightclubs and mass events, and might also be used in pubs and restaurants to reduce social distancing restrictions. Meanwhile in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon is set to face a backlash from Scottish politicians after she said vaccine passports or certification would come in some form in Scotland.
The potential use of certificates – which would include vaccination status, test results or evidence of someone having contracted and recovered from COVID-19.
Covid status certificates are being examined by a panel led by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove as a way of allowing society to return to normal while minimising the risk of another wave of cases.
The Prime Minister stressed the Government has not finalised any plans but ministers are concerned that if there is not an official certificate then firms might require customers to demonstrate if they have had a vaccine or test anyway.
Any vote in the Commons on the matter would be close, given the scale of Tory opposition and Labour’s reservations about the policy – which Sir Keir Starmer said would be against the “British instinct”.
The plan faces opposition from MPs ranging from former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to the chairman of the powerful Tory backbench 1922 Committee Sir Graham Brady.
Currently, 41 Tory MPs including Richard Drax and Steve Baker rebels have put their names to a letter calling vaccine passports “divisive and discriminatory.”
Speaking this afternoon, Tory MP Steve Baker and deputy of the influential 1922 Research Group, said: “Whether the Government imposes this, recommends it or simply stands back and allows it to happen.
“Covid-Status Certification would be entirely un-British and our country and values would become unrecognisable.”
Forest of Dean MP Mark Harper, chairman of the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group, warned Covid status certification “will lead to a two-tier Britain”.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi also acknowledged the use of coronavirus certificates domestically raised difficult ethical questions.
He told Times Radio: “We haven’t even got to the stage where we have decided what we want to do on this domestically, because there are so many issues that do need careful consideration.
“Michael Gove is consulting with all stakeholders, including Parliamentarians, so we are not there yet.
“But the Prime Minister made it very clear, if we do get to that place, then of course we will go to Parliament for a vote.”
Addressing the matter in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon said: “I think we will see some kind of vaccine certification starting to be used.
“I’m not one of these people that says never, ever, ever, because I think we need to be open-minded to anything that helps us get back to normality.
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“But nor am I one of these people that just says we’ll just forget some of the really complex issues that we’ve got to think through.
“Let’s have a grown-up debate about this and trial where that is appropriate.”
Addressing Holyrood journalists, Douglas Ross MP, Scottish Conservative leader, said: “In terms of domestic vaccine passports, I think there are still many questions that remain unanswered.
“That’s why I’ve said, you know it’s right that there are trials that take place.
“However, there will be those in society particularly younger who haven’t had the opportunity to get a vaccine yet, and are well down the list of the priorities for the vaccines.
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“There will be a small minority of people for legitimate reasons who don’t take up the vaccine.
“And I worry that we get into a two-tier system that does not allow in fairness for everyone to come through this.”
Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, added: “This is grossly unfair to the millions who have not been vaccinated yet and to those who have been advised not to take the vaccine.
“It is a massive step for the state to insist that people be vaccinated before accessing everyday services.
“People should have a chance to have a say on this major development and on my call for caution.
“The impact on young people and the risk of abuse are serious.”
Scotland’s national clinical director, Professor Jason Leitch, said forms of certification were already in force for overseas travel and certain industries – based on a person having already caught coronavirus or being vaccinated.
Addressing the Scottish Government’s COVID-19 briefing, he said: “I think Covid certification in the round will become a thing.
But he stressed: “I’m sceptical about the vaccine bit being linked into pubs, bars and restaurants.”
The row over vaccine passports across the UK comes as the Government’s scientific advisers warned that further steps along the road map to ease England’s lockdown could result in another wave of coronavirus cases.
The next stage of the process – on April 12 – will see non-essential shops, pub beer gardens and hairdressers among the businesses allowed to reopen.
Minutes of a March 31 meeting of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) showed that modelling suggested the measures “may only lead to a modest increase in hospitalisations and deaths” and were “unlikely to exert pressure on the NHS”.
But the advisers warned that changes planned for May and June – when greater indoor social mixing is set to be permitted again – could cause hospital admissions to rise to levels seen during January’s peak, according to scenarios based on “pessimistic but plausible” assumptions about how effective vaccines will be.
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