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The Prime Minister, who used his Easter message to promise “brighter days ahead”, brushed off warnings from backbenchers as he gave the pilot scheme the green light. A Liverpool comedy club will be the first to test the system next week. It will then be trialled at a handful of large events including the FA Cup Final and Sheffield’s World Snooker championship. Pubs, restaurants and businesses will not require passports for now, and the government says some sectors – including essential shops and public transport – will remain exempt.
But the scheme is likely to be rolled out further, wth officials suggesting it could help see the end of social distancing.
Those attending the trialled events will need a Covid certificate that will show they have been vaccinated or have already had, and so have natural immunity to, the virus.
A recent negative test will also show on the certificate and allow entry.
The certificate can be displayed on a phone but the NHS is also working on non-digital alternatives.
The Government is also in talks with the organisers of the Brit Awards to be a tenth event in the pilot scheme.
Evidence will be reviewed after the events to assess transmission risks in different settings.
Boris Johnson gives the go ahead for Covid vaccine passports
Covid passports will be trialed in Liverpool
Mr Johnson said: “We have made huge strides over the past few months with our vaccine programme and everyone in the country has made huge sacrifices to get us to this stage in our recovery from Covid-19.
“We are doing everything we can to enable the reopening of our country so people can return to the events, travel and other things they love as safely as possible, and these reviews will play an important role in allowing this to happen.”
The plan to go ahead with vaccine passports comes despite the threat of a huge rebellion in
Parliament on the issue with 40 Tory MPs joining a cross party group of 70 signing a letter opposing the idea.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has also described the proposal as “un-British” and raised concerns about personal freedom indicating his party may join rebels in opposing the scheme.
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Boris Johnson used his Easter message to promise “brighter days ahead”
It had been indicated that the scheme would be in place for less than 12 months in a bid to quell any rebellion. But a Downing Street source refused to confirm this time limit, saying: “That is pure speculation. We just don’t know yet.”
Amid fears that vaccine passports would create “checkpoint Britain”, a number of Tory MPs have made it clear they will join opposition parties to oppose them.
Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs and who has backed the Sunday Express’s Protect Our Freedoms campaign, said: “With high levels of vaccination protecting the vulnerable and making transmission less likely, we should aim to return to normal life, not to put permanent restrictions in place.”
North West Leicestershire MP Andrew Bridgen warned: “Vaccine passports would be divisive, effectively creating an underclass of people who are not vaccinated, many of whom won’t be vaccinated for medical reasons. It’s a major infringement of civil liberties.”
He warned: “Parliament needs to be vigilant. The reason they are not talking about pubs and shops at the moment is because they know they won’t get it through Parliament. We need to make sure this is not the thin end of a very authoritarian wedge.”
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Former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron also criticised the idea of vaccine passports.
He told a podcast: “What we have got is a government that talks a lot about liberty, that is core to its narrative. But the minute the rubber hits the road they are not liberals or libertarian, they are authoritarian in their instincts.”
The thinktank the Institute of Economic Affairs warned that the warned that vaccine passports are part of a package of measures which are in danger of turning the replacement of Public Health England into “the Office of Health Coercion”.
The passport pilots are part of a series of reviews being carried out with the aim of lifting the current restrictions.
A social distancing review will consider the “safest approach” to allowing closer contact between friends and families. It will also look at ways of increasing transport capacity and reducing distancing requirements at work.
It is understood that the outcome of the Covid certificate trials could have a baring on changes to social distancing regulation.
The government also confirmed it will press ahead with a traffic lights system for foreign travel.
International travel will not be allowed until May 17 at the earliest, and when the “Stay in the UK” message is removed, countries will be given red, amber and green ratings.
There will be no isolation requirement for travel from countries in the new green category, although pre-departure and post-arrival tests will still be needed.
The ‘red’ and ‘amber’ restrictions would remain as they are now, with the requirement to enter quarantine or self-isolation upon return.
In his Easter message, Mr Johnson praised the work of Christians during the crisis and acknowledged that the last 12 months have been “very tough times”.
But he added: “As ever, the arrival of Easter brings with it new hope and, this year more than ever, it brings the promise of brighter days ahead for us all.”
Covid vaccinations live
His optimistic tone came as the number of people who received their second dose passed five million.
The number of people getting their second dose reached 5,205,505 or 9.9% of all adults while 31,425,682 – 59.9% or adults – have now received their first dose.
There were a further 10 deaths, the lowest since September 10, and 3,423 new cases reported yesterday (sat)
Although there were further warnings linking the Astra Zeneca jab rare blood clots, experts suggested the risks were “miniscule” and the jab remained safe.
Public health expert Professor Linda Bauld of Edinburgh University said there was no evidence uptake of the jab was slowing.
She said: “The MHRA is still consistently saying there’s no cause for concern and that is absolutely the message to people.
“It doesn’t look from the behavioural response, the surveys I’ve seen, that it’s affecting uptake in the UK and that’s really important.”
Dr Chris Smith, consultant virologist at University of Cambridge, added the risk of the clots happening is around one in 2.5 million and side-effect risks were no higher than risks from other vaccines like flu or polio.
He said: “You are much better off having the vaccine statistically rather than catching coronavirus.”