PM faces growing criticism after backing 'vaccine passports' for mass events

5 April 2021, 17:17 | Updated: 6 April 2021, 08:40

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Boris Johnson faces a showdown with lockdown-sceptic Tory MPs after he gave his backing to so-called "vaccine passports" to allow large-scale events to go ahead.

Mr Johnson confirmed at a press conference last night that they will be trialled from mid-April to allow large-scale events in the UK to go ahead safely,

But Mr Johnson looks set for a showdown with riled Tory MPs and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called the idea "un-British."

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told LBC this morning that the plans raise a number of "ethical questions" but stressed that people won't need one for visits to the pub and the plans were only being looked into at present.

Mr Johnson has also been warned that a fresh wave of the virus is likely later in the year as the roadmap proceeds.

A paper from experts at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said their projections suggested stage two of the road map "may lead to a small surge of cases and deaths" but stage four in June, when restrictions are expected to be abolished, could "lead to a larger surge of cases and deaths comparable to that seen during the first wave".

Speaking at Monday's coronavirus press briefing from Downing Street, the prime minister said a Covid-status certification system will be developed over the coming months.

The so-called vaccine passports system will allow higher-risk settings, such as football stadiums and festivals, to open up safely and with more participants.

It will take into account three factors: vaccination, a recent negative Covid-19 test, or natural immunity after having tested positive for the virus in the previous six months.

Pilot events will take place from mid-April to trial the system, Mr Johnson confirmed, but the government is still "some way off finalising any plans".

However, the prime minister said there was "absolutely no question" of people having to show a vaccine passport to go to the pub or hairdresser when lockdown eases further on Monday.

As it happened: PM updates nation on relaxing England's lockdown

Read more: Lockdown in England to be eased as planned on 12 April, PM says

Boris Johnson confirmed vaccine passports will be trialled from mid-April
Boris Johnson confirmed vaccine passports will be trialled from mid-April. Picture: PA

He told the briefing: "On Covid status certification, as we prefer to call it, the most important thing to say to everybody listening and watching is there's absolutely no question of people being asked to produce certification or a Covid status report when they go to the shops or to the pub garden or to their hairdressers or whatever on Monday.

"And indeed we are not planning that for stage three either, 17 May as you know we are hoping to go for the opening up of indoor hospitality and so on.

"We are not planning for anything of that kind at that stage."

Asked whether children will be required to have vaccine passports should they be implemented, Mr Johnson said: "We're a way off implementing or enacting anything of the kind for anybody, let alone children.

"I've spelt out the ways in which we might think of doing that but it's not for steps two or three in any event."

Read more: No date for return of foreign travel but traffic light system confirmed

Read more: Twice-weekly Covid tests for all in England to stop outbreaks 'in their tracks'

He then said any vaccine passport proposal would be put to Parliament: "We are taking too many fences at once, first we need to work out what exactly the proposal might be, but certainly if there is something to put to Parliament I am certain we will do that."

However, he acknowledged that there were "ethical and practical issues" with vaccine passports.

Mr Johnson told the press conference: "I want to stress there are complicated ethical and practical issues as I think I said last time raised by the idea of Covid status certification using vaccination alone.

"Many people will be for one reason or another unable to get a vaccine, for medical reasons for instance, or perhaps because they're pregnant.

"So you have to be very careful how you handle this and don't start a system that is discriminatory.

"But obviously we are looking at it - we want to be going ahead in the next few weeks with some test events, some pilot events. Big events, getting 20,000 people into Wembley on May 15, that kind of thing.

"Getting people back into theatre, that will unquestionably involve testing to allow the audience really to participate in the numbers that people want."

Read more: Dates revealed for Britain's first 'vaccine passport' events

Read more: Mandatory vaccine passports threat to British freedom, Tory MP fears

The prime minister also confirmed that England's lockdown measures will be relaxed as planned on Monday 12 April.

He said he would be visiting a pub on that date as he confirmed the next stage of lockdown easing can go ahead.

"The net result of your efforts and of course the vaccine rollout is that I can today confirm that from Monday April 12, we will move to step two of our road map," Mr Johnson said.

"Reopening shops, gyms, zoos, holiday campsites, personal care services like hairdressers and of course beer gardens and outdoor hospitality of all kinds.

"And on Monday 12, I will be going to the pub myself and cautiously but irreversibly raising a pint of beer to my lips."

However, although he said the lockdown changes in England were "fully justified", he also urged the public not to be complacent.

"We can see the waves of sickness afflicting other countries and we've seen how this story goes," he explained.

"We still don't know how strong the vaccine shield will be when cases begin to rise, as I'm afraid they will, and that's why we're saying please get your vaccine or your second dose when the turn comes.

"And please use the free NHS tests even if you don't feel ill."

He told the briefing he did not think, based on the current data, that there would be any deviation from his road map out of lockdown.

"We set out our road map and we're sticking with it," he said.

"And I want to stress that we see nothing in the present data that makes us think that we will have to deviate from that road map.

"But it is by being cautious, by monitoring the data at every stage and by following the rules - remembering hand, face, space, fresh air - that we hope together to make this road map to freedom irreversible."