U-Turn Again: Govt Advises Covid Passports for Restaurants and Pubs

LONON, ENGLAND - JULY 10: Boris Johnson, a leadership candidate for Britain's Conservative Party holds a pint of beer as he meets with JD Wetherspoon chairman, Tim Martin at Wetherspoons Metropolitan Bar on July 10, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Henry Nicholls WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Henry Nicholls WPA Pool/Getty Images

Updated guidance from the British government advised that pubs, restaurants, and bars use the NHS’s COVID Pass app to screen customers, in another flip-flop from Boris Johnson on passports for pints.

While Prime Minister Johnson had already urged nightclubs and music venues to use the COVID Pass — which records vaccination status, natural immunity, or a negative test result — “as a means of entry”, it was not until updated government guidelines were published on Wednesday that it was found the recommendations had been extended to smaller and more commonly frequented hospitality venues like pubs and restaurants.

On the government website page entitled “Restaurants, pubs, bars, nightclubs and takeaway services,” the guidance for people who work in or run such businesses are recommended to “consider the use of the NHS COVID Pass to reduce the risk of transmission at your venue or event.”

“The government will work with organisations that operate large, crowded settings (for example, nightclubs) where people are likely to be in close proximity to a large number of those from other households to use the NHS COVID Pass as a condition of entry,” it said.

Responding to the guidance for vaccine passports being given to an “ever greater circle of businesses”, Steve Baker of the Covid Recovery Group told The Telegraph: “I am simply astonished that, after everything the Prime Minister and Michael Gove said in the past about ID cards, they are advancing this fast down this really quite appalling path.”

“I can only hope it can be changed as soon as feasible,” he added.

Johnson and his ministers have vacillated almost monthly on the government’s position on domestic vaccine passports for going to the pub and other hospitality venues since November 2020 when Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi suggested that some businesses may demand customers proof of vaccination or immunity before entry.

When Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove was asked the next day whether people would need a pass for a pint, he replied with a flat, unambiguous “No,” and when pressed if the government were working on any such system, said: “No, that’s not being planned. I certainly am not planning to introduce any vaccine passports and I don’t know anyone else in Government [who is].”

By February, Prime Minister Johnson suggested that “covid status certification” may be needed to go to pubs or theatres, saying that while “fervent libertarians will object”, “other people will think that there is case for it” and went on to compare the UK to other countries where “vaccine passports” to show evidence of inoculation against yellow fever was common.

Johnson’s language advanced further into pressing for the acceptance of vaccine passports the following month when he said that “the basic concept of vaccine certification should not be totally alien to us”. Johnson even predicted, as per Mr Zahawi’s remarks months earlier, that individual pubs or restauranteurs may demand proof of immunity, saying: “That may be up to the individual publicans — it may be up to the landlord.”

The government position flip-flopped again when it was announced that vaccine passports would not be needed for the April partial reopening of England when pubs were allowed to serve customers outside.

Vaccine passports, however, arrived through the backdoor last week when Prime Minister Johnson advised large venues like nightclubs “to make use of the NHS Covid Pass – which shows proof of vaccination, a recent negative test or natural immunity – as a means of entry”.

Days later, it was reported that the government was looking into mandating passports for pubs from the autumn.

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