Boris Johnson has said the government wants to avoid the introduction of COVID vaccine passports in England “if we possibly can”, but added they would be an option to be kept “in reserve”.
The prime minister, who will on Tuesday set out his plan to deal with coronavirus during the upcoming autumn and winter months, said he would “do everything that’s right to protect the country”.
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Ministers had previously planned to make proof of two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine a condition of entry to nightclubs and other crowded venues in England by the end of this month.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said, under those plans, that a negative coronavirus test would “no longer be sufficient proof” that a person was COVID-safe.
Amid a backlash from some Conservative MPs and nightclub owners, the government is now set to ditch the immediate introduction of COVID vaccine passports, with Health Secretary Sajid Javid this weekend revealing the plans “will not be going ahead”.
However, both Mr Javid and now Mr Johnson have admitted they could yet be an option in future months.
Ahead of a news conference on Tuesday – at which he will appear alongside England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance – the prime minister said he would be “giving a full update on the plans for the autumn and winter”.
Asked about the possible introduction of vaccine passports during a visit to a British Gas training academy in Leicestershire on Monday, Mr Johnson added: “What we want to do is avoid vaccine passports if we possibly can, and that’s the course we’re on.
“But I think you’ve got to be prudent, and you’ve got to keep things in reserve in case things change.”
The prime minister also declined to rule out the prospect of another lockdown this winter.
“We’ve got to do everything that’s right to protect the country,” he said. “But the way things are going at the moment, we’re very confident in the steps that we’ve taken.”
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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said on Monday the use of COVID vaccine passports “should never prevent people getting essential services”.
He added they could “possibly” be used for “some events” but should be used “in conjunction with tests”, so that people had an alternative option to prove their COVID status.
“There should always be an alternative – either double vaccination or a negative test,” Sir Keir said.
Asked whether he would endorse another lockdown, the Labour leader said the best way to avoid one was to “go cautiously and to continue with practical measures like masks on public transport and enclosed spaces”.
The Scottish government is persisting with plans to introduce the use of COVID vaccine passports for over-18s – without the alternative of a negative test result – for attendance at venues such as nightclubs or indoor seated events of 500 or more attendees, unseated outdoor live events with more than 4,000 people in the audience and “any event, of any nature, which has more than 10,000 people in attendance”.
Speaking at the SNP’s conference on Monday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon suggested the measure could prevent further restrictions being implemented.
“All of these basic mitigations make a difference,” she said.
“So too will the limited system of vaccine certification approved by parliament last week. I hope it won’t be necessary for long.
“But if the simple act of showing that we’ve been vaccinated helps keep businesses open and our lives free of restrictions, then I believe it will be worth it.”