Covid passports are set to be trialled at sports events under Government plans to ramp up attendances in time for Euro 2020 and the great summer of sport.
Sportsmail understands that officials are working on a ‘covid certification’ scheme, which will be used in the second phase of test events due to start at the end of May or early June.
It will record whether a person has had a vaccine, the result of an antibody test to prove immunity, or the result of a covid test to show they do not have the virus.
Sports bodies, including the Football Association and England and Wales Cricket Board, said earlier this month that achieving capacity crowds by the end of June was ‘credible’, if covid passports were tested and introduced at sporting events.
Covid passports raise the prospect of full houses for sports events after June 21
The inclusion of passports in the second phase of test events raises the exciting prospect of full houses later this summer.
England compete in football at the Euros, take on Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India in the cricket, Silverstone will host a Formula One Grand Prix and not to mention Wimbledon, The Open Golf and Betfred Rugby League Challenge Cup Final.
The covid vaccination pilot scheme will begin after work on an updated NHS Covid app, that will show a person’s coronavirus status.
And passports should secure full stadiums for the beginning of the next Premier League, EFL and rugby seasons, provided the virus remains firmly under control.
Major sporting bodies, including the football, both rugby codes, motorsport, cricket and tennis wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and opposition party leaders on April 8, urging them to urgently agree to testing covid passports in order to return capacity crowds this summer.
Their letter was titled: ‘Sports support Covid certification (testing and vaccination) review as a credible option to enable full venues from 21 June onwards.’
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And it stated: ‘Looking ahead to June 21, we support the Government’s ambition to secure the full return of fans, without restrictions if possible.
‘Of necessity, this will depend upon the Government agreeing that it is safe to lessen or drop social distancing requirements.’
It added: ‘We know that our stadia can only be fully filled with an assurance process.
‘This process must ensure that everyone can access stadia and must include arrangements that would verify a negative Covid test or an antibody test or vaccination certification.’
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LIMITS FROM MAY 17
Under the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, increasing numbers of spectators are allowed at events, provided infection rates, hospitalisations and deaths from Covid remain low, and vaccination rates high.
From May 17, indoor venues will be allowed to admit up to a maximum of 1,000 spectators, or half their capacity if that figure is lower.
For outdoor events, there will be a maximum of 4,000 fans allowed, or half a venue’s capacity (whichever figure is lower).
However, at the biggest stadiums, with a capacity above 16,000, such as Wembley and Premier League football grounds, a maximum of 10,000 fans will be allowed, or a quarter of capacity (whichever figure is lower).
From June 21, it is hoped all social distancing requirements can be lifted.
Prime Minister Johnson is desperate to see stadiums back to full capacity and despite opposition to the scheme, covid passports are increasingly seen in government as the only way to achieve that in the near future.
At a Number 10 press briefing on Tuesday, Johnson said that covid passports could be used in ‘tough to open’ sectors such as theatres, sports stadiums and nightclubs,
‘What we are looking at – what I think any responsible government would look at – is how we use people’s Covid status to open up those things that are very tough, and did prove very tough to open last year,’ he said.
On Monday, the Department of Health published adverts for jobs on a possible Covid certification scheme, with applicants asked to be ready to start by May 4.
The Prime Minister has set out a roadmap to return spectators to events. Up to 10,000 fans, or 25 per cent of stadium capacity, whichever is lower, will be allowed from May 17.
Johnson has said that he wants full houses from June 21, subject to the outcome of test events and as long as the spread of covid is under control, vaccinations are progressing well, there is limited amount of serious illness and new variants are not spreading.
Phase one of the events research programme, which began last weekend at the FA Cup semi-final between Leicester City and Southampton at Wembley and the World Snooker Championships in Sheffield, is based on social distancing and testing spectators for coronavirus.
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It will continue until May 15, when Wembley hosts the FA Cup Final in front of 21,000 fans.
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters says that football will have lost £2 billion since the start of the pandemic in match day revenue and broadcast income.
In an interview last month, Masters said the goal for football was to return to full stadia by the beginning of next season.
The Premier League signed up to a letter from all major UK sports, which called on politicians to support a thorough review Covid passports as a way to achieve that.
‘There is a lot of water to pass under the bridge until that can happen, but that is our goal,’ Masters said in March. ‘A return to full, vibrant stadiums, a return to the normal Premier League.
‘We have got to get through step one to step four in the road map and look at the national picture and work with the government to create the conditions for that to happen. We believe it is an achievable goal.
‘The vaccination programme is the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s the thing that changes everything, from being controlled by the virus to controlling it, and returning to normality.
‘If the vaccination programme works in the way the government wants it to, it will bring the return of stadium, theatres, cinemas and ticketed events generally.’
However, Bill Bush, the Premier League’s executive director, warned that without covid passports there will be limited, socially distanced crowds, no away fans and no food at matches.
The absence of covid passports for that event came as a surprise and with opposition parties and civil liberties groups raising concerns, it was thought the Prime Minister may have shown the scheme the red card.
However, it now appears the technology to support the test was not in place.
It is a sign of the government’s sense of urgency that the next second round of test events are expected to use ‘covid certification’ in paper form, if the NHS app is still in development.
All eyes will be on England in June and July with seven matches are scheduled to take place in Euro 2020 and there is the prospect of more if Ireland and Germany are unable to host their games due to covid.
The Football Association has indicated to the organisers, UEFA, that the stadium will accommodate 22,500 fans – 25 per cent capacity – with the possibility of increasing to 45,000 spectators – half-full – for the semi-finals and final, which takes place on July 11.
The country’s major sports bodies are desperate to see fans return to generate some much-needed revenue after more than a year with almost no spectators.
In their letter to politicians, they are argues that the passport should include testing for the virus as well as confirming immunity, and committing to a time -limited approach.
The letter addressed some of the concerns held by politicians and was designed to focus minds on the potential benefits of a workable scheme, if it can be achieved.
Labour leader Sir Keir has cast doubt on the use of covid passports, describing government plans as a ‘a complete mess’, which his party is unable to support ‘in their current form’.
Liberal Democrat Ed Davey has called the passports ‘Covid ID cards’ and has described them as ‘illiberal’ and ‘unworkable’.
The SNPs Ian Blackford has said ‘on the basis of the information available, there is not a proposition in front of us that SNP MPs could support’.
And some 40 Tory MPs have made clear they are against domestic vaccine passports, warning that introducing the checks in everyday life would create a ‘two tier’ nation.
But despite the opposition, the Prime Minister, who has previously expressed his desire to see a full house at the Euro 2020 final, is pressing on with a pilot that could yet deliver capacity crowds this summer.
England’s Summer of Sport
Key events after 21 June – the earliest date all restrictions can be lifted:
11 June-11 July: Football – Euro 2020 in various countries, including seven matches at Wembley
28 June-11 July: Tennis – Wimbledon
29 June, 1 & 4 July: Cricket – England v Sri Lanka ODIs
8, 10 & 13 July: Cricket – England v Pakistan ODIs
13: Athletics – Diamond League: Anniversary Games at London Stadium
15-18 July: Golf – The Open at Royal St George’s
16, 18 & 20 July: Cricket – England v Pakistan T20s
17 July: Rugby League – Challenge Cup final at Wembley
18 July: Formula 1 – British Grand Prix at Silverstone
4 Aug-14 Sept: Cricket – England v India five Test series
27 Sept-1 Oct: Cricket – Bob Willis Trophy final at Lord’s
3 October: Athletics – London Marathon
9 October: Rugby League – Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford