PM's plans for Covid passports in chaos as 8 in 10 nightclubs say they won't use them

15 July 2021, 15:44

Boris Johnson's plans to urge clubs to use Covid passports but not to make them mandatory appear to be in tatters days after he announced them.
Boris Johnson's plans to urge clubs to use Covid passports but not to make them mandatory appear to be in tatters days after he announced them. Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

Government plans to use Covid passports as a way to keep down cases as mass events open up on 19 July appear to be in tatters as a new industry poll has found eight in 10 nightclubs won't be using them.

At a press conference on Monday, Boris Johnson urged venues to use the NHS Covid Pass "as a matter of social responsibility".

The government went further on Thursday, releasing guidance that suggested pubs, restaurants and bars should also ask to see the pass.

But, according to a survey of 250 nightclubs and event organisers conducted by the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), just 17 percent of venues plan to ask customers for their Covid pass.

Read more: No10 tells shoppers to wear masks and bars to keep table service after 19 July

Read more: Minister says some businesses will use vaccine passports for 'comfort' of customers

The NHS Covid Pass app allows users to display proof of their vaccination status, any recent Covid-19 tests they have taken and if they have any natural immunity from a recent Covid infection.

As cases surge across England - topping 50,000 in 24 hours on Wednesday - the poll throws into question the government's decision not to make showing the pass mandatory for attending nightclubs and large events.

How to reopen the nighttime economy safely has been an ongoing question within government for months, with nightclubs now having been closed for 16 months.

Pilot events were held for mass events, including 7,000 packing into Circus nightclub in Liverpool over two nights.

A delayed report into the Events Research Programme found "no substantial outbreaks" of Covid-19 after the events. However, attendees had to provide proof of a negative test before entry.

Read more: Thousands pack Liverpool club in Covid pilot event

Read more: Nightclubs tell LBC they won't ask for Covid passports

Government sources had previously briefed that Michael Gove, who led a review into the issue, believed the certificates would be "too much hassle" on the public and businesses.

However, guidance released on Monday warned if "sufficient measures are not taken to limit infection, the government will consider mandating the NHS Covid Pass in certain venues at a later date".

The nightclubs polled by the NTIA cited the unreliability of lateral flow testing, that few 18-30 year olds have had the opportunity to get double vaccinated and the fact businesses have only been given a week's notice to implement the checks as some of the issues that concern them.

NITA CEO Michael Kill, who represents 1,400 businesses, said: "At this rate, 'freedom day' will be a false dawn for a nightlife sector characterised by chaos."

He continued: "We are hugely concerned that the government has caused yet more confusion by suggesting that Covid Passports are not mandatory while, at the same time, details reveal clearly that this could well be the case in future.

"Government guidance released this week has given businesses less than a week to make what would be a major change to their operating model.

"This type of ambiguous communication is creating hesitation amongst customers and operators."

Read more: 'No substantial outbreaks' of Covid-19 following mass test event

Read more: 'Irresponsible': Senior doctors condemn PM's 19 July lockdown easing

Mr Kill added: "The government should recognise explicitly that Covid passports are just not viable for large swathes of the night time economy, as their own internal report into the matter concluded.

"My worry here is that they intend to hide behind this 'guidance' when cases rise and they are forced to change tack, and blame it all on individual businesses and consumers for not taking the steps to stay safe.

"In fact, this sector takes the safety of its staff and customers very seriously and wants to be able to reopen safely, but is once again at sea because of a lack of leadership from the government."