From July 19, life in England will fully unlock for the first time since March 2020. Sajid Javid and Boris Johnson have confirmed that the final stage of easing restrictions – Step 4 in the prime minister’s road map out of lockdown – will go ahead after a previous delay to the original date of June 21.
But while people will no longer be legally required to wear face masks or socially distance, the prime minister has urged caution and encouraged businesses and large events to implement so-called “vaccine passports”.
Javid confirmed on Monday that businesses operating in “high risk settings” with little indoor ventilation will be “supported and encouraged” to use a certification system to check if customers have either been double-jabbed or had a recent negative Covid test.
Though viewed as a controversial and potentially discriminatory idea when it was originally suggested, this certification is seen by governement as both a way to keep down infections and an incentive to the public to get vaccinated.
So what are vaccine passports?
‘Vaccine passport’ is the term given to a digital certificate that confirms a person has been vaccinated against coronavirus or that they have recently taken a test which shows they are negative.
They have been rolled out in certain countries, such as Austria, as a way of making sure people infected with coronavirus are not entering certain venues.
In England, the vaccination passport is called the NHS Covid Pass and is being trialled in the form of a personalised and downloadable QR code.
Who can get the NHS Covid Pass?
If you are aged 16 or over, you can get an NHS Covid Pass depending on your vaccination status or Covid-19 test results. People who have had two doses of the Pfizer, Oxford or Moderna vaccine or one dose of the Janssen vaccine a minimum of two weeks ago are eligible.
Others can get a certificate if they have had a negative coronavirus PCR or lateral test result within the past 48 hours. Or if they have had the virus in the past six months, they can get one after finishing self-isolating.
The government has already been offering the passes to people taking part in its Events Research programme, which has been examining the risk of Covid-19 transmission by people attending a series of trial events.
Events chosen included the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, the Brit Awards, the World Snooker Championship, the Download music festival and Wimbledon.
How do you get hold of your pass?
The digital versions last for 28 days if you are fully vaccinated, then automatically renew, while if you have a negative Covid test result it is valid for 48 hours.
You will also be given an option to download it as a PDF or get it sent via email. People who are vaccinated can also have a paper copy sent to them which can be requested online on the NHS website. You do not need a GP referral.
What are the pros and cons of the pass?
Supporters of the NHS Covid Pass say it will give people more opportunities to do things they may not be able to do otherwise, such as travelling. From July 19, people who have been fully vaccinated in the UK will not need to quarantine upon arrival from amber list countries.
Some politicians have also said they could help life resume as normal. During an appearance in front of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) in May, Michael Gove said deploying the passports could help “economic and social life… return more quickly”.
However, MPs on the PACAC published a report in June that said Covid passports “disproportionately discriminate” against people based on race, religion, age and socio-economic background.
The report said the implementation would “by its very nature be discriminatory” and the MPs found “no justification for introducing a Covid-status certification system that would be sufficient to counter what is likely to be a significant infringement of individual rights”.
The passports have also already been subject to fraud, with some fake versions already spotted online.
Could they be made a legal requirement?
The government has not made them mandatory, saying only that it would “encourage” pub and restaurant owners and organisers of large, crowded events to use them.
But it has signalled that ministers could still consider mandating them in future in guidance published on Monday, which said: “If sufficient measures are not taken to limit infection, the government will consider mandating the NHS Covid Pass in certain venues at a later date.”