Boris Johnson has announced another major U-turn by recommending England’s nightclubs and large events require people to show a Covid vaccine passport to gain entry.
The prime minister confirmed England will end almost all of its Covid restrictions on Monday, July 19 but warned life will not “instantly revert” to normal.
Ministers and experts have urged the public to “go slow” when restrictions are lifted to try and contain an “exit wave” and reduce the number of deaths from the virus, with forecasts that 200 people per day could be dying from Covid by mid-August.
“I cannot say this powerfully or emphatically enough: this pandemic is not over,” Johnson told Monday’s press briefing at Downing Street, adding the government would “expect and recommend” people continue to wear masks on public transport and in crowded indoor places after Monday.
However, masks will no longer be mandatory and the “one-metre plus” and “rule of six” regulations will be completely scrapped from July 19, while social distancing will remain in place for people testing positive for Covid, isolating or travelling from certain countries.
‘No easy answer’ to lifting restrictions, says PM
There is “no easy answer” to easing restrictions said Johnson, who is pressing ahead despite rising Covid cases and hospitalisations, arguing a further delay until the autumn risks an even bigger surge than the one forecast this summer.
Earlier on Monday, health secretary Sajid Javid set out the government’s plans in the Commons telling MPs that the vaccine programme will prevent a surge in deaths and hospitalisations despite cases soaring to 100,000 a day.
“We believe this [vaccination] wall means we can withstand a summer wave,” said Javid. “And while the wall would be higher still if we waited until winter, we know the wave would be much more dangerous. So while we know there are risks with any decision, this is the most responsible decision we can take.”
Labour has accused the government of acting recklessly and shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said Javid is taking “a high-risk, fatalistic approach” on lifting restrictions, telling the Commons: “Instead of caution, he’s putting his foot down on the accelerator while throwing the seat belts off.”
Covid status certification handbrake trurn
In April, MPs voiced concerns that the possible introduction of vaccine passports risked creating “a two tier nation of division” and last week the government issued guidance that “Covid status certification” would not be a legal requirement. Monday’s announcement – described on the Mirror’s website as a “handbrake turn” – instead issues “guidance” for event organisers who will be “encouraged” to require attendees to show their vaccine passports for entry to nightclubs, concerts, sports events and even busy city centre pubs.
So-called vaccine passports will be available via the NHS app, and although venues will not be legally required to ask for the passport, written guidance published after the PM’s press conference states the government “reserves the right” to force venues to use them.
“As a matter of social responsibility we’re urging nightclubs and other venues with large crowds to make use of the NHS Covid Pass, which shows proof of vaccination, a recent negative test or natural immunity as a means of entry,” Johnson said.
NHS Covid Pass – get the app or get a letter
The NHS Covid Pass is available on the NHS app or via its website or app. It is different to the NHS Covid-19 app which is used for contact tracing, and people must be registered with a GP in order to use the app.
The NHS Covid Pass will generate a QR code that lasts for 28 days and will be available in England two weeks after a second vaccine dose has been administered. Passes are also available for people who had a negative PCR test or lateral flow test and reported them on the NHS website. These passes last for two days.
A non-digital alternative is available by requesting an NHS Covid pass letter – by calling 119. The letter shows a person’s vaccination status and can be used if people are travelling abroad, going to an event or anywhere else where their vaccine status needs to be proved.