Fury over plans for Covid 'pub passport' app that would show proof of jab, negative test or immunity


Millions could go to pubs with no social distancing under plans to let drinkers use mobile phones to prove they are free of Covid.

As fury erupted over the idea of coronavirus ‘passports’, it emerged customers could be allowed to rely on an app.

They could use it to prove they had either had the vaccine, a recent negative test or antibodies from having Covid-19 before. The software would provide a virtual ‘coronavirus certificate’ – probably featuring a scannable QR code – allowing them entry to pubs, clubs and restaurants. It could also be used for football matches, business conferences and even wedding venues, it was claimed last night.

Millions could go to pubs with no social distancing under plans to let drinkers use mobile phones to prove they are free of Covid

Millions could go to pubs with no social distancing under plans to let drinkers use mobile phones to prove they are free of Covid

The Prime Minister revealed on Wednesday night that Covid 'passports' may be needed to go to the pub

The Prime Minister revealed on Wednesday night that Covid ‘passports’ may be needed to go to the pub

Venues taking part could drop all social distancing rules as an incentive to ask customers to prove their Covid-free status. But for drinkers relying on a negative test, these certificates could be valid for as little as 24 hours. Officials want to modify an existing NHS app to facilitate the ‘passports’ scheme.

The plans are being examined by Michael Gove as part of a review into how they could be used to reopen the economy as soon as possible. However, hospitality bosses branded the idea ‘unworkable, costly and discriminatory’ and Tory MPs said  they were horrified. 

The row came as: 

  • Figures showed that in the past week, most regions of the country recorded at least one day of no virus deaths;
  • Deaths fell to a five-month low – a daily average of below 80, compared to more than 1,000 for most of January; 
  • Nearly 40 Tory backbenchers defied the PM and voted against extending ‘draconian’ virus laws for another six months;
  • EU leaders descended into civil war as Brussels appeared to back away from plans for an export ban on jabs to Britain;
  • French president Emmanuel Macron delivered a humiliating mea culpa over the bloc’s bungled vaccine rollout;
  • Figures revealed the pandemic’s devastating toll on families and couples;
  • It was claimed that AstraZeneca had sacrificed more than £21billion of revenues by selling its vaccine at no profit;
  • Boris Johnson hinted nurses in England may get a pay rise above 1 per cent after the Scottish government promised a 4 per cent hike for its NHS staff;
  • Universities called for students to be allowed back on campuses from April 12 amid concerns they have been ‘forgotten;

The Prime Minister revealed on Wednesday night that Covid ‘passports’ may be needed to go to the pub. Yesterday the first details emerged about how ministers believe that such a scheme might operate. The Mail understands that officials are looking to modify the existing NHS app.  

After downloading it, people would be able to log in to get details of their vaccination, a recent test showing they did not have the virus, or results of an antibody test showing they are immune as they had already had it. Once a person had one of these three, the phone app would give them a digital certificate that they could present at venues.

This would probably include a QR code that staff could scan to verify it was genuine, along with a picture of the person’s face. Those who do not have the app would be able to request a paper certificate. Cabinet Office Minister Mr Gove is conducting a review into how certificates could be used. The Government is yet to decide details such as how often someone who has not had the vaccine would need to be tested to get a certificate.

Under one option being considered a negative test result would be valid for as little as 24 hours, meaning a person would face the need for daily testing if they wanted to go out regularly.

Ministers also are thinking about issues such as whether people would need to be supervised when using lateral flow tests, which provide results in 30 minutes, rather than allowing them to be conducted at home so they cannot lie about the result. The certificates could also be required to attend large gatherings such as sports matches. The Prime Minister yesterday insisted ‘no decisions have been taken at all’ and that he would say more on the issue early next month.

Venues taking part could drop all social distancing rules as an incentive to ask customers to prove their Covid-free status

Venues taking part could drop all social distancing rules as an incentive to ask customers to prove their Covid-free status

When Mr Johnson raised the issue of Covid certificates on Wednesday he said it would probably be up to landlords whether they demanded them, but yesterday his spokesman refused to rule out the possibility they could be mandatory.

Steve Baker, deputy chairman of the 70-strong Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, said yesterday he was ‘horrified’. He told BBC Radio’s the World At One: ‘We will end up swiping in everywhere…. creating an enormous audit trail of everywhere we’ve been based on our health status. It’s the most extraordinary upending of the principles that I thought the Conservative Party stood for.

‘I’m very clear for me it’s an existential issue, it’s a die in the ditch issue. I will not at any stage be supporting the idea of the public living in the embrace of the state to this extent.’

Tory former minister Dr Liam Fox said: ‘Where the Government were to try to compel individuals to carry some proof of either immunity through vaccine or a negative test, I think that would be completely unacceptable in a country where civil liberties are held so highly and so prized… I would not like to see a Conservative government intervene in the freedom of the private sector to choose the customers that they have.’ 

Tory William Wragg told MPs: ‘I cannot help but think we have a back of a fag packet-esque approach to this whole question of Covid vaccine certification. If I could be so bold and suggest that as the Conservative Party, we might actually think of what we believe in.’ 

Appy Hour? No thanks! Bar bosses rage at ‘bonkers’ plan for jab passports – amid fears it may lead to fraud

Pubs , bars and nightclubs were in open revolt yesterday against controversial Government plans that could see customers turned away without a ‘vaccine passport’.

More than 20 landlords and industry chiefs, from individual village pub owners to the bosses of some of Britain’s largest chains, damned the idea as ‘unworkable, costly and discriminatory’.

Pub chiefs labelled it as ‘un-British’, saying it was ‘like carrying an identity card’ and infringed on civil liberties.

The ferocious backlash erupted after Boris Johnson suggested on Wednesday night that pub landlords may be able to demand proof of a Covid vaccination as a condition of entry.

Boris Johnson suggested on Wednesday night that pub landlords may be able to demand proof of a Covid vaccination as a condition of entry

Boris Johnson suggested on Wednesday night that pub landlords may be able to demand proof of a Covid vaccination as a condition of entry

However, the idea – immediately labelled ‘papers for the pub’ – yesterday drew outrage from Tory MPs and industry leaders, left furious by the prospect of extra costs and administration just as they are finally getting to reopen following months of closure. One boss described the vaccine passport scheme as the ‘maddest thing they’ve come up with yet’, while another labelled it ‘completely bonkers’. 

Q&A

What is being suggested?

Pubs and restaurants could be allowed to bar customers who cannot prove they have had a Covid jab, a test or proven immunity from having had the virus before. Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove is leading a review into the possible use of Covid certificates, and will provide an ‘initial update’ on April 5 or April 12.

How might this work?

Officials are looking to modify an existing NHS app. People would be able to log in to get details of their coronavirus vaccination, a recent test, or the results of an antibody test showing they are immune because they have had it. Once a person has one of these three, the phone app would give them a digital certificate they could present at venues.

How could this be checked?

It would likely include a QR code that could be scanned, as well a picture of the person’s face.

Is this the same as the NHS contact-tracing app?

No, confusingly the NHS has two different apps. The ‘NHS Covid-19’ app used for contact tracing and this second one called ‘NHS app’. It currently allows patients to access parts of their medical record and to book GP appointments.

What if I don’t have a smartphone?

People who cannot access the app will be able to request a paper certificate, which will also likely include a QR code.

How soon could this come in?

The PM said it may not be feasible to use Covid certificates until every adult had been offered a jab, which the Government has promised by the end of July. But with pubs and restaurants due to be allowed to serve customers indoors from May 17, ministers may try to bring them in sooner.

Are pubs happy about this?

No. Hospitality bosses have dismissed the idea as ‘unworkable, costly and discriminatory’. They say it will create more work for staff just as venues open after months of closure.

Are there benefits for pubs?

They may be able to drop social distancing rules if they demand customers prove their Covid status, meaning they could operate at full capacity.

Would it be voluntary?

Downing Street yesterday refused to rule out the possibility that the certificates could be mandatory.

The system would be open to fraud and faked passports, they warned, while staff at the door would have little power to actually enforce such a scheme.

The move also would discriminate against younger people, pregnant women and ethnic minorities, who are less likely to have had the vaccine, they added.

The proposals form part of the ongoing official review of ‘vaccine passports’ and follow months of battles over tight restrictions imposed on the hospitality sector.

A final decision over how the system would work has not been reached, but it could ultimately affect businesses including theatres, bingo halls, bowling alleys, ice rinks and cinemas.

The Mail understands that ministers want a scheme based around the NHS mobile phone app which would allow people to produce a virtual ‘certificate’ proving they have had a Covid jab, a recent negative test or antibody immunity from having had the virus previously.

In a bid to diffuse the row yesterday, the Prime Minister hinted the vaccine passport would not be required for entry until ‘absolutely everybody’ had been offered the jab. But senior figures across the hospitality sector were not convinced, and demanded the Government allow it to stick to its roadmap and lift all restrictions in June.

Clive Watson, boss of City Pub Group, which has 48 pubs, said: ‘This proposal is completely bonkers and unworkable. It would create a scramble for the relevant paperwork and would be extremely difficult for door staff to enforce.’ 

Nick Mackenzie, chief executive of Britain’s biggest pub group Greene King, which has 3,100 pubs, said: ‘It would be devastating for pubs. Barring entry to customers who haven’t had a vaccine would be totally unworkable, add significant cost and make pubs unviable.’ 

Jonathan Neame, chief executive of Shepherd Neame, which has 30 pubs, said: ‘We should not be putting up new barriers just as our freedom is restored and society starts to reconnect.’

Some have questioned whether a vaccine passport could enable the roadmap out of lockdown to be accelerated.

Most areas of hospitality will be able to open indoors from May 17, before being released from all restrictions from June 21.

But anger at the vaccine passport scheme was shared by landlords running small businesses.

Gareth Dore, owner of two venues including the Cellar Club bar in Leamington Spa, said: ‘After a year of no profit and mounting costs, I will not be turning more people away by asking for a vaccine passport at my venues.

‘None of this is needed to go in supermarkets or shops. The industry is on its knees and we’re all fed up of being unfairly picked on.’

Lauren Hawes, landlady of The Great Northern Pub in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, said: ‘Pregnant women might not have had a vaccine. Imagine someone going out with their partner for an evening out and she gets rejected purely for being pregnant.’

Unions raised fears of a black market for doses fuelled by demand from the under-50s.

Drinkers outside a pub in London's Soho on October 17, 2020, the first day after the capital was put into Tier Two restrictions

Drinkers outside a pub in London’s Soho on October 17, 2020, the first day after the capital was put into Tier Two restrictions

Dan Shears, a director at GMB, which represents hospitality workers, said: ‘This will lead to pressure on GPs to fast-track younger patients, false certificates, potential violence for pub workers and even a black market for vaccine doses.’

Businesses in the leisure sector also raised their opposition. John O’Reilly, chief executive of Rank, which runs 152 casinos and bingo halls, said: ‘Our customers know our venues are safe and the last thing they want to see are more hurdles which will prevent them from having a good time.’

Some businesses, especially in international travel, have already indicated they will require their customers to be vaccinated.

Saga has said that passengers on holidays or cruises must be fully vaccinated, while British Airways will let people register whether they are jabbed on a smartphone app. 

PATRICK DARDIS, chief executive of Young’s Pubs, is AGAINST the app which he believes would be unenforceable, unworkable… un-British

After more than a year of lockdowns, the reopening of the Great British Pub next month should be a moment to cherish.

But any celebrations will be badly soured if the Government goes ahead with its disastrous proposal to introduce Covid passports for hospitality trade.

Under this intrusive, destructive and unenforceable scheme, customers could be denied entry to any pub if they failed to produce proof – probably through a smartphone app – that they had either been vaccinated, had a recent negative test or had Covid antibodies.

PATRICK DARDIS (pictured): After more than a year of lockdowns, the reopening of the Great British Pub next month should be a moment to cherish

PATRICK DARDIS (pictured): After more than a year of lockdowns, the reopening of the Great British Pub next month should be a moment to cherish

The idea is wholly un-British, smacking of something from a totalitarian regime. Freedom – like the pub itself – is woven into the fabric of our national identity. To be effective, the Government would have to establish a national digital database and a huge network of local enforcement agencies. But the state’s record on such projects is hardly inspiring, as highlighted by the expensive shambles that was Test and Trace.

Nor has the recent treatment of pubs been reassuring – the 10pm curfew and the incomprehensible guidelines on ‘substantial’ meals became notorious.

British pubs have been hammered throughout the pandemic, with many forced to shut permanently. This passport measure would be another crippling blow. Publicans are already struggling to meet their bills, yet under this proposal they would have to take on more staff to implement and police the scheme. The vaccine rollout is being staggered by age, so it was a relief yesterday when the Prime Minister admitted it may be possible to introduce these passports only once all adults have been offered a jab.

Otherwise, it would surely discriminate against our biggest source of income – the young.

All sorts of other practical problems arise. Refusing entry could lead to the risk of conflict and intimidation. Do landlords really want to act as a quasi police force? A black market in fake certificates and apps will almost certainly be created, too. Will pubs have the expertise to deal with that?

Do we want inspectors conducting spot checks, like something out of a police state?

I suspect the Government wants to impose these passports to encourage the public’s acceptance of new rules for trips abroad. But given the danger of importing new variants, international travel is the last thing the state should be promoting.

Britain’s battered hospitality industry is essential to our economy, and that is where support should be concentrated. This bullying scheme will do nothing to help.

ADRIAN VINKEN, CEO of the Theatre Royal in Plymouth, believes this could be our ticket out of Covid hell

For all of us who work in theatre, as in so many industries that rely on bringing people together, the past year has been nothing short of a nightmare. Hopes of reopening have been dashed again and again.

Three months after London’s West End went dark last March, the great Dame Judi Dench publicly speculated that she might not live to see many of its world-famous theatres reopen.

ADRIAN VINKEN (pictured): If scientists can demonstrate that proof of vaccination is the best way to protect public health in crowded venues, then we have to do what it takes

ADRIAN VINKEN (pictured): If scientists can demonstrate that proof of vaccination is the best way to protect public health in crowded venues, then we have to do what it takes

But now, with mass vaccination, there are real grounds for hope. Yet on their own, vaccines may not be enough. The rollout is starting to slow amid supply problems, while so-called ‘vaccine hesitancy’ has led to concerning numbers of people turning down the crucial jabs – more than 3million over-55s have not been immunised. All this has led to fears that vaccines may not be the silver bullet we hoped.

That is why the Government is now rumoured to be considering mandatory Covid passports for entertainment venues: as a way of safely allowing these places to reopen. And I welcome the idea: it could be the ‘passport’ out of this crisis.

I understand why some have reservations. I share concerns about surrendering any medical details to an official brandishing a clipboard.

But we have to be realistic. If scientists can demonstrate that proof of vaccination is the best way to protect public health in crowded venues, then we have to do what it takes.

For theatre to be financially viable you need to be close to 80 per cent full. That is impossible with social distancing and it is why ‘vaccine passports’ could be the way out.

Think how reassuring it would be for those in the audience to know the people around them had all been safely vaccinated.

Far from being a curtailment of our freedom, these crucial documents could be the way to enable us to be free again – until the virus is defeated at last.

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