UK politics & policy updates
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The UK has dropped plans to introduce vaccine passports at nightclubs and mass events in England this month after government insiders suggested the Covid-19 situation was “not as bad as some feared”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is preparing to announce a “toolbox” of options this week, which the government hopes will avoid the need to re-enter lockdown this winter, when the NHS is expected to face significant pressure. Vaccine passports were one of the options under consideration.
But the proposals have provoked a strong backlash from backbench Conservative MPs and opposition parties, who have decried them as “discriminatory”. Johnson is likely to rule out their immediate introduction at a Number 10 press conference on Tuesday.
Sajid Javid, health secretary, told the BBC on Sunday that certification for jabs would not be introduced by the end of September as previously announced.
“I’ve never liked the idea of saying to people ‘you must show your papers’ to do what is an everyday activity,” he said. “We’ve looked at it properly and while we should keep it in reserve as a potential option, I’m pleased to say we will not be going ahead with plans for vaccine passports.”
Javid said that, while Downing Street was “not anticipating” a further nationwide lockdown, it would not take the option of jab certificates off the table. The government is also expected to repeal some, but not all, of the powers in the emergency Coronavirus Act.
The change marks an abrupt policy U-turn. Nadhim Zahawi, vaccines minister, said last week that certification would be introduced to curb coronavirus infections indoors. “The best way we can keep those industries open in my view, in our view, is to work with the industry,” he added.
One well-placed Whitehall official insisted that they could still be introduced later this year. “If the situation deteriorates, they may be needed as a potential mitigation. At this stage, it’s not as bad as some feared.”
Introducing certification has prompted criticism from libertarian Conservative MPs and the Liberal Democrats. The Labour party has also opposed their introduction in Scotland.
Government insiders suggested that Johnson may have lacked the parliamentary majority to pass proposals for jab certificates into law. “We were facing defeat, so we’re waiting to see how the pandemic pans out,” said one official.
Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the Labour party, described the policy on coronavirus passports as “shambolic from the start”.
She added: “There has never been any clarity from ministers about what vaccine passports were supposed to achieve, how they would work and what was expected from businesses and workers.”
Mark Harper, chair of the Covid Recovery Group of lockdown sceptic Conservatives, said: “I welcome the news that vaccine passports won’t happen. They are pointless, damaging and discriminatory. Domestic vaccine passports shouldn’t even be kept in reserve.”
The Night Time Industries Association, which represents the UK’s bars, pubs, restaurants and clubs, welcomed the decision.
“We hope that businesses will now be able to plan for the future with some degree of certainty, regain confidence from customers and the workforce and start to rebuild a sector that has consistently been at the sharp end of this pandemic,” it said.
The government is expected to confirm plans this week to inoculate teenagers if approval is given by the UK’s four chief medical officers. Javid said the programme could “start within a week” if given the go-ahead.
One senior government insider said they expected approval for jabbing teenagers and for the winter booster programme “to come in the next 48 hours”.
The health secretary also announced on Sunday that he wanted to abolish mandatory PCR tests for travellers returning to the UK “as soon as I possibly can” but said ministers would “remain very cautious”.
“I’m not going to make that decision right now, but I’ve already asked officials that the moment we can, let’s get rid of these kinds of intrusions, the cost it generates for families, particularly families just trying to go on holiday,” he told Sky News.
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