The government’s review of Covid vaccine and testing certification could lead to a ban on demands for proof of immunity in certain circumstances, prime minister Boris Johnson has indicated.
The PM’s comments raise the possibility that the review, to be led by Michael Gove and report by 21 June, could bar employers from implementing “no jab, no job” rules or pubs and restaurants excluding people who have not been vaccinated.
The government has so far resisted calls from some businesses for vaccine passports to be shown in order to gain access to workplaces or hospitality and entertainment venues, with vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi warning the documents would be “discriminatory”.
But Mr Johnson’s roadmap for exit from lockdown revealed that a review will be carried out on “whether Covid-status certification could play a role in reopening our economy, reducing restrictions on social contact and improving safety”.
It is understood that Mr Gove’s review will look not only at the question of vaccine passports but also into whether people could be issued with official certification to prove a recent negative Covid-19 test, possibly in the form of an entry on the NHS smartphone app.
Mr Johnson made clear that no decision has been made on the scope of any certification scheme, saying said that complex ethical issues must be considered before making a decision on “mandating people to have such a thing, or indeed banning people from doing such a thing”.
Meanwhile, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was ready to consider “some kind of mechanism like this [that] can give us some greater normality back”.
Ms Sturgeon told the Scottish parliament: “There may well be scope for vaccination giving you the ability to do certain things that without vaccination you might not be able to do … I don’t close my mind to this, but I think, like everybody else, we want to think through this carefully.”
Privacy campaigner Jim Killock, of the Open Rights Group, warned that vaccine passports have the potential to be “extremely discriminatory and invasive of personal privacy” and could be used as a way of introducing ID cards by the back door.
“The supposed benefits may be limited and temporary,” he said. “It is right that the government proceed with caution; it must ensure that there is public consultation and that it interrogates the benefits and the downsides. It could be a very concerning path to take.”
Speaking during a visit to a school in south London, the prime minister said he was “optimistic” that England will hit the target of 21 June set out in his roadmap for lifting almost all coronavirus restrictions, though he cautioned that “nothing can be guaranteed”.
He said that the massive programme of vaccinations, which has seen almost 18 million people receive their first dose since December, had made “all the difference” in raising hopes of a return to normal life.
Mr Johnson said today that there was no doubt – regardless of the UK’s decisions – that some countries will in future demand proof of immunity, similar to certificates currently issued with vaccines for diseases like yellow fever. “It’s going to come on the international stage, whatever,” he said.
But he said domestic use of vaccine passports would need to be done in a way which did not discriminate against those who have not received the jab.
“We’re looking at a novelty for our country,” said the PM. “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.
“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 a thing, or indeed banning people from doing such a thing.
“There are complex issues we need to work out.
“We can’t be discriminatory against people who, for whatever reason, can’t have a vaccine. There might be medical reasons why people can’t have a vaccine, some people may genuinely refuse to have one – now, I think that’s a mistake, I think everybody should have a vaccine.
“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.
“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, the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.”
Mr Johnson said Mr Gove would be getting “the best scientific, moral, philosophical, ethical” advice before making his recommendations.