Between the lines

Inside Plan B: government quietly revives mandatory Covid passports plan

Downing Street says rules will introduced if NHS comes under “unsustainable pressure”

Scrapped plans to make Covid vaccine passports a mandatory requirement for access to public venues are back on the table as part of Downing Street’s contingency “Plan B” to safeguard the NHS this winter.

Under proposals published yesterday, the health certificates will be required to get into nightclubs, music venues, outdoor festivals, and large sports matches.

And the government has launched a consultation that “asks whether the public thinks the list of settings is too narrow”, raising the prospect of other entertainment venues “where people mix and mingle” being included, said The Telegraph.

The plan will face “fierce criticism” from Tory MPs, the newspaper added, with critics arguing that the passports are “totally unacceptable”, discriminatory and a route to a “two-tier society”.

Proposed rules

Double-vaccinated people would be certified by the passports, but “negative coronavirus tests and proof of natural immunity after recently recovering from the virus would no longer be permitted”, the London Evening Standard reported.

The public will have until 11 October to respond to the planned rules, which would apply to over-18s in England and “would require legislation”, said the paper.

The venues where the passports would be mandatory include “all nightclubs and other venues open after 1am with alcohol, music and dancing”, according to the newly published proposals.

The rules would also apply to indoor events attended by 500 or more people “where those attendees are likely to stand and mix to a significant degree, or move around during the event, such as music venues or large receptions”. The same goes for outdoor, crowded settings with 4,000 or more attendees, such as festivals, as well as “any settings with 10,000 or more attendees, such as large sports and music stadia”.

Some settings would be exempt from the requirement, however, including places of communal worship, wedding ceremonies, funerals and other commemorative events. “Free, unticketed outdoor events in public spaces, including street parties, protests and mass participation sporting events, would also be exempt,” the policy paper said. 

And Plan B as a whole will be introduced only if the NHS comes under “unsustainable pressure” in the coming months, the government said. 

Set to ‘act swiftly’ 

The Plan B proposals have been published just weeks after Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the BBC that vaccine passports would not be introduced.

"We shouldn't be doing things for the sake of it,” Javid said. 

However, ministers said yesterday that the government needed to be ready to “act swiftly” and adopt measures such as vaccine passports “at short notice” if the health service became overwhelmed amid an increase in Covid cases.

Maggie Throup, the new minister for vaccine deployment, insisted that “while we are totally confident the careful steps we are taking will help rule out the need for mandatory vaccine certificates, we need to be prepared for all scenarios”.

She added: “We know these kinds of contingency plans will only work if businesses and the public get to have their say and I’m urging everyone who could have to use certification: give us your views, give us your ideas.”

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