As Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to set out more details about coronavirus passports on Monday, the British leader will drop the use of vaccine certificates in pubs and restaurants because of political and industry opposition, according to reports.
“We are doing everything we can to enable the reopening of our country so people can return to the events, travel and other things they love as safely as possible, and these reviews will play an important role in allowing this to happen,” Johnson said.
Britain is planning a series of trial measures, including “coronavirus status certifications,” over the coming weeks to see if the government can allow people to safely return to mass gatherings at sports arenas, nightclubs and concerts.
People attending a range of events this month and in May, including a club night and key FA Cup soccer matches, will need to be tested both before and after. The trials will also gather evidence on how ventilation and different approaches to social distancing could enable large events to go ahead.
U.K. Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston stressed the testing program is trial-and-error.
“It is not just about certification actually, in fact the earlier programs, the earlier pilots almost certainly won't involve any element of certification but it will involve testing, making sure people are tested before and after the event,” he said. “What we will be looking at is the mitigation measures, so the ventilation, one-way systems, hygiene measures, all of those kind of things, to help inform long-term decision making.”
Officials are also developing plans to test COVID-19 passports, which are expected to show if a person has received a vaccine, has recently tested negative for the virus, or has some immunity due to having had coronavirus in the previous six months.
Dozens of British lawmakers, including some from Johnson’s own Conservative Party, have opposed the passport plans.
Tory civil liberties campaigner and former minister David Davis called the idea “un-British.”
“We wouldn't do this for flu, flu can kill up to 25,000 people a year,” he said. “Vaccines will reduce this illness to killing a lot less than that every year, then we will have to accommodate it, but not by giving up our basic freedoms.”
Vaccine passports have been hotly debated around the world. The question is how much governments, employers, venues and other places have a right to know about a person’s virus status. Many disagree over what the right balance is between a person’s right to medical privacy vs. the collective right of people not to be infected.
Some critics also say vaccine passports will enable discrimination against poor people and impoverished nations that do not have ready access to vaccines.
Britain is looking to address a host of practical and ethical questions that need to be resolved before any wide rollout.
U.K. businesses, including pubs, restaurants, nonessential shops and hairdressers, prepared to welcome back customers as restrictions ease in England next week.
Officials say 47% of the country’s population has had a first vaccine dose and more than 5 million people in the U.K. have received their second shot.
Despite Britain’s success on the vaccination front, it still has the highest reported COVID-19 death toll in Europe at around 127,000 deaths.
Infections have come down significantly in Britain. The government on Sunday reported only 2,297 confirmed new daily cases and 10 additional deaths. That compares to nearly 70,000 daily new cases and up to 1,800 daily COVID-19 deaths in January.
The latest figures were likely lower than expected because of a lag in reporting over the Easter weekend.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.