I appreciate the arguments against the use of COVID-status certification, but I believe that certification can be a valuable tool in helping to manage the spread of COVID-19.
I welcome the fact that the Government has been working with organisations to encourage voluntary use of the NHS COVID Pass. The NHS COVID Pass provides a way for individuals to prove vaccination status, natural immunity from COVID-19 or a negative test result. Over 200 events and venues have already used the NHS COVID Pass as a condition of entry including at Premier League matches, Reading and Leeds Festivals and the BBC Proms.
Taking into account the latest data, mandatory use of the NHS COVID Pass will not be introduced at this point – as the Prime Minister has confirmed – but I do not believe that it would be sensible to rule out mandatory use in the future. The Government has said that it would introduce mandatory vaccine-only COVID-status certification, as one of a range of Plan B measures, if the data suggests that action is required to prevent unsustainable pressure on the NHS. Unlike last winter when businesses were required to close, this approach would allow businesses to remain fully open while protecting our health service.
Mandatory use of the NHS COVID Pass would also only apply in certain settings, such as nightclubs and other venues where large crowds gather. The Government would seek to provide businesses with at least one week’s notice before imposing mandatory certification and exemptions from the NHS COVID Pass would apply to people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, to those on COVID vaccine trials and to those under the age of 18.
COVID-status certification is not currently mandatory at any venue in England. Ministers have previously been clear that any future implementation of certification would involve appropriate Parliamentary scrutiny.
I also appreciate the argument about civil liberties and the use of COVID-status certification, but the Government has been clear that it is not mandating the use of certification in any setting at this point. It is instead encouraging use of the NHS COVID Pass in certain venues. I want to take back our freedoms, as we all do, and I believe that use of the NHS COVID Pass in higher risk settings is a socially responsible approach.
In relation to universities, as I understand it currently no universities within the UK will require incoming students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to university in the Autumn. The Department for Education has announced that there are no plans for proof of vaccine status to be required to attend lectures or stay in halls of residence. However, I welcome the views of Ministers to encourage all students to take up the offer of both vaccine doses as well as for universities and colleges to promote the offer of the vaccine, and they are required to conduct risk assessments for their particular settings.
Moreover, I also note the concerns raised regarding reports that the Premier League will introduce vaccine passports for the 2021/22 season. Public safety is a priority, so I am encouraged that the Premier League is reviewing the latest guidance and working with clubs, supporters, and the authorities to finalise its protocols ahead of the new season.
Guidance issued by the Government indicates that in order to reduce risk to customers, organisers of large events should ensure customers are able to visit the venue or event safely, and should therefore consider displaying an NHS QR code, and consider using the NHS COVID Pass, amongst a variety of other provisions. This guidance can be found by searching: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-covid-19/events-and-attractions
This is about protecting people in those settings where the virus is most likely to spread, and I believe that double vaccination is the best possible way to do this. Vaccines reduce the risk of infection and, as a result, onward transmission.
We all want this country to be able to enjoy the fruits of our massive vaccination campaign. But to do that we must all remain cautious, and we must continue to get vaccinated.