The NHS app could be used as a “health passport” that includes vaccinations and negative test results to allow access to live events and nightclubs.
It is understood that the government’s new review of “Covid certification” will include the option of using a smartphone app for bookings and appointments.
The NHS Covid App, which has been downloaded 21 million times since its launch last year, would have privacy issues that make its adaption difficult.
But the more generic NHS App already allows people to see their medical records — including vaccinations — and test results are shared with the GP databases.
The idea of digital “immunity certificates” for use both at home and abroad has grown in recent weeks, with figures like former PM Tony Blair saying they will become “inevitable”.
Although ministers have long denied they back “vaccine passports” for access to domestic services, the new “roadmap” published on Monday included a review of certification to be led by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove.
Whitehall is looking at the idea of using both vaccinations and negative Covid test results to allow the public to attend certain events, perhaps live sports, nightclubs or theatre without social distancing.
By including negative rapid flow test results within a certain period, the NHS app would avoid any suggestion that those who refuse a vaccination are being discriminated against.
The new Gove review will look at whether employers can use existing legal discretion to bar people from their premises if they lack such certification, as long as other statutory safeguards on discrimination are maintained.
Speaking on Tuesday, Boris Johnson acknowledged the “deep and complex issues” surrounding the introduction of immunity certificates.
Gove “will be getting the best scientific, moral, philosophical, ethical viewpoints on it and will work out a way forward,” Johnson said.
“The fervent libertarians will reject but other people will think there’s a case for it.
“This is an area where we’re looking at a novelty for our country, we haven’t had stuff like this before, we’ve never thought in terms of having something that you have to show to go to a pub or a theatre.
“There are deep and complex issues that we need to explore, and ethical issues about what the role is for government in mandating or for people to have such a thing or indeed in banning from people doing such a thing,” the prime minister added.
Johnson is also keen to use the UK’s leadership of the G7 group of wealthy nations to promote an internationally recognised coronavirus vaccination records to allow foreign travel.
“It’s going to need an international consensus to be built on how to allow for greater foreign travel, and that’s why we’re going to try and do that via the G7 and through other sort of multilateral discussions,” a No.10 spokesman said.
“Because it will be for different countries to determine their own regimes in relation to the quarantine and who they want to allow in, and we want to try and work together to get some sort of international framework.”
The latest “roadmap” states that the UK will work with the World Health Organisation and others but warns that any such system will take time to implement.
“It will be heavily dependent on improved scientific understanding about the role vaccination plays in reducing transmission,” it said.
Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Holyrood parliament that “vaccine passports” were not appropriate for accessing public services, but she refused to rule out their use in some form.
“I think it’s not straightforward, it’s not simple ... I don’t close my mind to this, but I think, like everybody else, we want to think through this carefully,” she said.
“And if some kind of mechanism like this can give us some greater normality back at some stage that we wouldn’t otherwise get, then let’s think about that.”