The UK government says it plans to trial Covid-19 passports at snooker tournaments, comedy clubs and soccer matches over the coming weeks.
As the country reopens, ministers hope the “covid-status certification” system will allow those who are vaccinated, have had a recent negative test or a positive test within six months to return to theaters, football matches, cinemas and other events.
Several countries consider some form of Covid-19 status verification as a viable way to make it quick and easy for individuals to attend events or board flights, but critics are worried the passports will harm fundamental freedoms and risk discrimination.
The UK pilot, which will be discussed in detail Monday by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, will test the effectiveness and transmission risks of the government’s reopening plan and starts on April 16 at Liverpool’s Hot Water Comedy Club. Other events and venues listed for April are the World Snooker Championship at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, the FA Cup Semi Final at Wembley Stadium in London and Luna Cinema in Liverpool.
“We have made huge strides over the past few months with our vaccine programme and everyone in the country has made huge sacrifices to get us to this stage in our recovery from covid-19,” Johnson said in a statement on Saturday. “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.”
The National Health Service is developing paper and digital methods for citizens to prove their Covid-19 status. The government stressed that passports will not be needed to travel on public transport or enter essential shops.
More than 70 MPs this week joined civil liberties groups such as Big Brother Watch in launching a campaign railing against the proposed use of documents allowing people access certain domestic venues. Senior politicians such as former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey were signatories to a statement which said vaccine passports are “divisive and discriminatory.”
Davey described the passports as “illiberal and unworkable” in a tweet Friday.
“Work is ongoing with clinical and ethical experts to ensure appropriate exemptions for people for whom vaccination is not advised and repeat testing would be difficult,” the government said in Saturday’s statement.
A tourism minister said Sunday the certification was “one of the tools” the government is looking at to “help us get back to the things that we love.”
“We’re very conscious and very aware of the ethical considerations around vaccination certification,” Nigel Huddleston told CNN affiliate ITN. “The key purpose of looking at this option is to see how it can enable us to open up, getting back to the things that we want to do sooner… Lots of businesses tell me opening is one thing, but what we really need to do is be able to open profitably and as long as social distancing is around, then that causes real challenges for us to be able to open as viable businesses again.”
International travel from the UK is still banned until May 17, but after that date the government will implement a “traffic light” system. Travelers arriving from “green” countries will not have to isolate while those from “red” or “amber” will continue to be restricted to the mandatory quarantine policies currently in place.
The American Civil Liberties Union said this week that plans to roll out a standardized vaccine passport must account for social inequalities and privacy rights and anything less is a “nonstarter.” Several organizations and tech companies have already started developing smartphone apps and other digital systems to store and verify vaccination information.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed an executive order Friday banning the use of Covid-19 passports in the state. The order prohibits any government entity from issuing vaccine passports and blocks businesses from requiring any such documentation.
Robert Iddiols, Kelly Murray, Gregory Lemos and Alaa Elassar contributed to this report.