The UK government is launching a review to investigate how ‘Covid status certification’, also being referred to as ‘vaccine passports’, could be used to help venues and events such as nightclubs and music festivals reopen.
Yesterday, February 22, Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled the planned ‘roadmap’ for easing lockdown restrictions, which aims for all social contact restrictions to be lifted by June 21, which would mean the return of nightclubs and festivals on this date.
However this is subject to certain conditions being met, with four separate reviews due to be carried out and report back over the coming weeks and months.
One of those reviews will consider the use of vaccine ‘passports’, despite the government previously denying any such policy would come into place.
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Addressing MPs in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister said a review will “consider the potential role of Covid status certification in helping venues to open safely”.
In January PolitcsHome reports reports a spokesperson for the Prime Minister said: "I think I've been clear on the idea of immunity passports or vaccination passports previously, and the fact that we have no plan to introduce them."
Earlier this month Health Secretary Matt Hancock said "it is not anything we are planning to introduce here”, and vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi also ruled out their usage for foreign travel, saying it would be "discriminatory" and "that's not how we do things. We do them by consent".
Experts have warned that vaccine passports could be discriminatory, with Professor Melinda Mills, who led a Royal Society report into a potential scheme, saying "there is a risk of unjustly discriminating in hiring, attending events, insurance, housing applications, you can think of many examples" and "people of different ethnicities have different levels of vaccine hesitancy".
A petition calling for the government to commit to not rolling out vaccine passports has gained more than 173,000 signatures.
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In his Commons address, Boris Johnson said the review will be “mindful of the many concerns surrounding exclusion, discrimination, and privacy".
The roadmap to reopening states: "The Government will review whether Covid-status certification could play a role in reopening our economy, reducing restrictions on social contact and improving safety,” noting that they could be used to “confirm in different settings that people have a lower risk of transmitting COVID-19 to others.”
It also states: "The Government will also consider the ethical, equalities, privacy, legal and operational aspects of this approach and what limits, if any, should be placed on organisations using certification.
"It will draw on external advice to develop recommendations that take into account any social and economic impacts, and implications for disproportionately impacted groups and individuals' privacy and security.”
The results of the review are expected to return before June 21, ahead of the scheduled date for ending all social contact restrictions, conditions permitting.
An ‘events research programme’ is also set to run from April, which will feature a number of pilot tests investigating conditions such as crowd sizes, social distancing restrictions and testing procedures. The findings of these pilots will also have an impact on the return date of events and what restrictions will or will not be implemented.
A government update states: “Over the spring the Government will run a scientific Events Research Programme. This will include a series of pilots using enhanced testing approaches and other measures to run events with larger crowd sizes and reduced social distancing to evaluate the outcomes. The pilots will start in April.
“The Government will bring the findings from across different sectors and different settings to determine a consistent approach to lifting restrictions on these events. Depending on the outcome of this work, the Government hopes to be able to lift restrictions on these events and sectors as part of Step 4.”
Patrick Hinton is Mixmag's Digital Features Editor, follow him on Twitter
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