U.K. Abandons Vaccine Passports Plans, Health Minister Says
The U.K. will abandon plans to call for proof of vaccination to enter certain venues, and may soon drop mandatory testing for returning travelers as part of a further easing of coronavirus restrictions to be announced this week, even as cases remain high.
Health Minister Sajid Javid spoke ahead of steps expected to be announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday to managing Covid over the autumn and winter. Booster vaccines are also on the agenda.
“I’ve never liked the idea of saying to people, ‘You must show your papers’ or something to do what is just an everyday activity,” Javid said in an interview on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday.
“We’ve looked at it properly, and whilst we should keep it in reserve as a potential option, I’m pleased to say that we will not be going ahead with plans for vaccine passports.”
Earlier, on Sky News’ “Trevor Phillips on Sunday,” Javid said the final word on vaccine passports was still pending, calling it “a big decision for any government to make.”
His comments were applauded by the Night Time Industries Association, which represents music clubs and other entertainment venues.
“Following an intense political and public campaign by the NTIA, its members and wider industry supporters, we welcome the comments from the Health Secretary this morning,” the group’s chief executive officer Michael Kill said in a statement.
The U.K. removed many of its coronavirus restrictions in July, but that initial step toward normality has been marred by a surge in cases of the delta variant of the virus.
Still, Javid isn’t expecting any further lockdowns. “It will be irresponsible for any health minister around the world to take everything off the table, but I just don’t see how we get to another lockdown,” he said.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made similar comments on Sky, saying Scotland wasn’t in danger of another lockdown despite rising cases there.
The U.K. is on pace to start a vaccine booster program this month, Javid said, with a few details still to be ironed out.
The health chief is also keen to end the costly PCR tests needed by U.K. travelers returning from certain countries.
“I want to take that away as soon as I can, but it must be based on the public health’s advice,” he said. “We should only keep measures in place if they are absolutely totally necessary.”
Javid said that Johnson this week will announce that some of the measures in the Coronavirus Act of 2020, which were by necessity emergency powers, will be dropped.
These include the power to shut down a business, to shut down education settings, and to require certain restrictions around people who are infectious.
“A lot of these powers can go,” the health minister said. “But some of them are necessary to keep, such as requiring people to self-isolate if they test positive.”
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the Labour Party was supportive of Johnson’s plans but needed more information.
“We will want to study the detail when it comes to Parliament because there have been huge concerns about the way in which the Coronavirus Act has been misused,” Ashworth said on Sky.
The Times earlier reported that while Johnson may drop the need for proof of vaccination for entry to nightclubs, cinemas and sports grounds, companies that now require certification of vaccines will be able to continue doing so.
Javid said there was no deadline for the government to finalize plans for vaccinations in 12- to 15-year-olds. The U.K.’s four chief medical officers are considering the issue, he said.
On Times Radio, Javid said that schools have been preparing for when or if the green light is given. He said he was “confident” of a fast rollout.
U.K. coronavirus cases remain high, but with the vaccine program well advanced -- more than 80% of people over 16 are double-vaccinated -- hospitalizations and deaths have remained lower than in previous waves.
Fall and winter are typically times when illnesses like the coronavirus and flu are on the rise.
Javid said that the U.K. would be making a big push on flu shots, potentially paired with coronavirus boosters, to keep the country as healthy as possible.
“Of course we’ll get Christmas,” he said.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.