March 8, 2021

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Vaccine passports: How Covid documents could help UK venues to reopen after lockdown – and what experts say

3 min read

Venues that have been left closed throughout the pandemic could be able to reopen with the use of “vaccine passports”, following the Prime Minister’s confirmation of a review into the use of the documents.

Boris Johnson on Monday said the Government wanted to determine whether offering “Covid status certificates” could help venues to open again while delivering his four-part roadmap to easing lockdown restrictions over the coming months.

While senior ministers have frequently appeared to dismiss the idea of introducing vaccine passports in the UK, the Prime Minister said a study into the use of vaccine and testing certificates will be one of four reviews conducted as part of easing the current restrictions.

Speaking at the Downing Street press conference, he acknowledged there were ethical issues around vaccine certificates: “There are clearly some quite complex issues, some ethical issues, issues about discrimination and so on, to what extent can governments either compel or indeed forbid use of such certification.

“I think all that needs to be gone into so we are going to have a review of the whole issue before we come to it.”

But he added: “There may well be a role for certification but we just need to get it right.”

The Department of Health said the review “will include assessing to what extent certification would be effective in reducing risk, and the potential uses to enable access to settings or a relaxation of Covid secure mitigations”.

No plans for how the certificates could work have yet been announced, but the technology could be used to determine whether people in England are eligible to attend a sports fixture or an office according to their vaccination status or a negative Covid test, and could help with allowing partygoers to be able to go clubbing as early as 21 June.

It could also help to keep the likes of pubs, clubs, and cinemas Covid-secure, by allowing security staff to be able to look up a person’s vaccine status or negative test results to determine their entry.

The certificates could either display vaccination data or testing data, though some government figures believe that the review is most likely to recommend that people display a verified negative test, rather than proof of vaccination, before attending an event such as a concert or sports fixture, according to The Times.

Start-up company YouCheck is one of the companies trialling its verification system in London and Bristol throughout March.

The tech once used by the company to check fraudulent tickets has been repurposed to assist track and trace by connecting attendees with their accompanying test result data, and it has been approved for trial by the Department of Media, Digital Culture and Sport.

A select number of venuegoers will be invited to trial events that will reach up to 25 per cent capacity. Prior to entry, eventgoers will channelled to test facilities replete with PHE approved coronavirus testing kits. The test results will be loaded onto an app, where door staff will quickly verify an attendee’ name, age, ticket and important test results. This process will be completed twice.

“With Covid-19 the incubation period is two to five days. For the honeymoon phase after the test, it’s the shorter the better, which means you’re good to go to a show for 48 hours,” YouCheck founder Fred Krefting told i.

However, this is just one of the pieces of technology available. Justice secretary Robert Buckland suggested individual premises would be allowed to make their own decisions about the sort of system they want to bring in.

“It’s very much a question of judgement based upon perhaps local prevalence or an issue relating to safety in the local area,” he told BBC News.

Concerns that the system will lead to discrimination, especially among communities with a lower vaccine uptake have also been raised.

The Government said as it looks into the technology, it “will also consider the ethical, equalities, privacy, legal and operational aspects of this approach and what limits, if any, should be placed on organisations using certification”.

The news has been welcomed by the Music Venues Trust, which has found that more than 400 grassroots music venues are at imminent risk of being closed permanently after near to a year of closures due to the pandemic.

Mark Davyd, CEO of Music Venue Trust told i: “Grassroots music venues across the country have enjoyed huge support from artists and audiences during this crisis and it is incredibly encouraging to see broad public support of vaccine verification as we consider a number of options to revive live music.

“The situation remains dire right across the events and entertainment sector. Economically viable events can’t happen with social distancing, and vaccine verification is one of a number of tools which venues can use to get back to full capacity so we can reopen every venue safely.”

Aside from entertainment venues, the technology could potentially be adapted to work in care homes, schools and businesses, many of which are currently in talks with technology companies about certification.

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