Boris Johnson has suggested that some pubs might require customers to produce vaccine certificates, an idea that he had previously deemed unlikely.
Almost 29 million people have received their first vaccine dose in Britain already in the fastest rollout in Europe, and there have been calls to open up the economy faster because of the success of the vaccination programme.
Appearing before a committee of senior lawmakers, Johnson said the ‘basic concept of a vaccine certification should not be totally alien to us’, citing how surgeons were required to have a Hepatitis B shot.
Asked whether ordinary citizens going to the pub might need one, he said: ‘I think that that’s the kind of thing that may be up to an individual publicans, it may be up to the landlord.’
He told the committee the public had been ‘thinking very deeply’ about such issues.
‘My impression is that there is a huge wisdom in the public’s feeling about this,’ he said.
‘People, human beings, instinctively recognise when something is dangerous and nasty to them, and they can see that COVID is collectively a threat and they want us as their government, and me as the Prime Minister to take all the actions I can to protect them.’
Last month when he outlined England’s ‘roadmap’ out of the coronavirus lockdown, Johnson ruled out any government-led vaccine passport scheme, although ministers have said that some certification might be needed for international travel, while it is considering whether care home staff must have shots.
‘What I don’t think we will have in this country is, as it were, vaccination passports to allow you to go to the pub, or something like that,’ he said in February.
He has since mandated senior minister Michael Gove to review the role that vaccine certification can have in society, including the reopening of hospitality venues, saying there were deep and complex ethical issues to explore.
Trade body UKHospitality criticised the prospect of pubs and restaurants being subject to vaccine certificates as ‘simply unworkable’ and said it could cause conflict between staff and customers.
Conservative MP and former minister Steve Baker warned it could create a “two-tier Britain” for those who are unable to take up the vaccine for medical reasons.
The deputy chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory lockdown sceptics said: “The Prime Minister began to tread a dangerous path when he opened the door to domestic Covid certificates.
“First they said we’ll need them to watch the football, and today that it may be papers for the pub.
“Whether the state legislates for it, recommends it or simply allows it the result will be the same: a two-tier Britain that prevents pregnant women from taking part in society, given that the Government is telling them not to take the vaccine, or one where we turn back the clock and tolerate businesses turning away customers from communities which have shown an unfortunate hesitancy to take up the offer of a vaccine.
“We must not fall into this ghastly trap.”
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, said: “It’s crucial that visiting the pub and other parts of hospitality should not be subject to mandatory vaccination certification.
“It is simply unworkable, would cause conflict between staff and customers and almost certainty result in breaches of equality rules.
“Through the success of the vaccine rollout we need to throw off the shackles of coronavirus in line with the Government’s roadmap, not impose more checks on our ability to socialise and do business.”
A British Beer and Pub Association spokesperson said: “Our sector has already gone to extraordinary lengths to prepare for reopening and we do not believe a requirement for pubs to check whether someone has had the vaccine would be appropriate or necessary.
“We will continue to work closely with the Government in developing guidelines for a safe and sustainable reopening in April and May.”
Britons are already gearing up for their first taste of post-lockdown freedom next Monday when they can finally meet friends and family in gardens and parks as the ‘rule of six’ returns outdoors.
Fridges are being piled high with beers and party food in anticipation of big barbecue reunions when friends and family can finally clink glasses and celebrate seeing each other for the first time in more than three months.
The Government has said outdoor gatherings including in private gardens of either six people – known as ‘the rule of six’ – or two households will also be allowed from next Monday, making it easier for people to meet outside.
There is expectation of a very good week of weather too, with the Met Office forecasting mild temperatures next week in southern England with high pressure building which will bring settled conditions for most areas.
It comes ahead of the third stage of rules easing on April 12, which will include the reopening of pubs and restaurants outdoors, non-essential shops, public buildings and outdoor attractions including theme parks.
Outdoor sports facilities such as tennis and basketball courts, and open-air swimming pools, will also be allowed to reopen from next Monday, and people will be able to take part in formally organised outdoor sports.
But up until then the rules remain – including for this weekend – that people can only meet one other person from outside their household or support bubble socially or for exercise, and this must be away from their home.
The ‘stay at home’ rule will also end next Monday, but the Government has advised that people continue to work from home where they can and ‘minimise the number of journeys they make where possible’. The advice from next Monday will be to ‘stay local’.
Britons are also still warned to avoid travelling at the busiest times and routes, while travel abroad will still be banned, other than for a small number of exceptions such as attending a funeral of a close family member.
The Government announced on Monday that anyone trying to leave the UK ‘without a reasonable excuse’ will be fined £5,000. Ministers have launched a taskforce to review global travel which will report on April 12.
This is also the date when hospitality venues such as pubs and restaurants will be able to reopen outdoors-only, along with outdoor attractions like theme parks. Indoor hospitality is not set to return until May 17 at the earliest.