Vaccine passports are shaping up to be one of the next great battles in the reopening of the UK economy.
The government appears to be taking steps to draw up a scheme, having this week published a document that commits to looking at “whether and how Covid-status certification might be used to reopen our economy, reduce restrictions on social contact and improve safety”.
So what exactly are vaccine passports, or as the government prefers to call them, Covid-status certificates? And what would they mean for event professionals?
Under the plans currently in development, the certificates would record whether someone:
– has been vaccinated
– has had a recent negative test
– has natural immunity
The government is also looking at whether people who have tested positive for the virus within the past six months could potentially be considered to have natural immunity. The certificates look set to be offered in both digital and non-digital form.
The Government has made it clear that there are some settings, such as essential public services, public transport and essential shops, where passports should never be required, in order to ensure access for all.
Government ministers say the scheme could have an “important role to play both domestically and internationally, as a temporary measure” that could potentially play a role in settings such as theatres, nightclubs, and mass events such as festivals or sports events to help manage risks where large numbers of people are brought together in close proximity.
It is unclear whether vaccine passports are being considered for business meetings and events. The government says it intends to trial Covid-status certification in certain settings, including large events, through the Events Research Programme and will continue to work closely with sectors on its approach.
However, vaccine passports are also not part of the newly-announced pilot events in Liverpool. The pilots will explore how different approaches to social distancing, ventilation and test-on-entry protocols could ease opening and maximise participation, including the use of lateral flow tests – but will not explore Covid-status certification.
There are also wider concerns about vaccine passports, with dozens of MPs calling them “dangerous, discriminatory and counterproductive”. Indeed, government scientific adviser Stephen Reicher has warned that they could even stoke resentment and trigger a widespread boycott of coronavirus jabs.
It is not clear yet when vaccine passports would come into operation. Prime minister Boris Johnson made clear at a press conference on Monday 5 April that they were not part of the government’s plans for stages two and three of lifting lockdown in England. That means not until June 21 at the earliest.
Event professionals have already expressed concerns about the possibility of vaccine passports.
In a piece published in February, M&IT Expert Liz Taylor, corporate event planner and MD of the Taylor Lynn Corporation, said: “Logistics aside, the biggest question for me is whether asking a person’s Covid-19 status is an infringement on their human rights.
“The freedom to choose our lifestyle, including whether or not we want to be vaccinated, should surely be just that – a choice. Restricting freedoms such as whether a person can attend a concert or watch a football match based on their vaccination status could be a dangerous route to a more dystopian and discriminatory society.”
Also, if vaccine passports are introduced, just how safe will they be? Adam Schrader, director of operations at travel risk intelligence company Riskline has highlighted that counterfeiting of vaccination passports and certificates could seriously undermine their role in reopening the travel and events sectors.
“If vaccination passports are to be the key to accessing so many aspects of life when they reopen, then there is a very strong motivation for millions of people to acquire a fake passport when they haven’t yet had their jabs, either by choice or lack of opportunity,” said Schrader.
When it comes to international travel, the UK may well have its hand forced. Other countries are already developing their own certification systems, such as the “Green Pass” in Israel and the “digital green certificate” in the European Union.
So regardless of whether the UK introduces vaccine passports, for anyone wishing to travel abroad, it seems Covid-status certification will become a feature of our lives for some time to come.