Plans to introduce vaccine passports across England next month have been shelved in a dramatic U-turn by the UK government, but Conservative opponents fear they could still be made mandatory later this year amid a warning the NHS faces “the worst winter in living memory”.
Just weeks after Boris Johnson announced the controversial documents would be necessary for fully vaccinated people to go to nightclubs and other crowded venues, Sajid Javid, the health secretary, said the policy had been suspended and would not go ahead from October 1st.
Government sources said dire warnings at the start of summer about Covid cases, hospitalisations and death levels as a result of the almost total lifting of restrictions had not been borne out, and that the success of the jabs rollout meant vaccine passports were not needed imminently.
Mr Johnson will confirm the move on Tuesday, when he is expected to make a Commons statement and hold a press conference to prepare people for a difficult winter, with measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing possibly being reintroduced at a national or local level.
A senior Whitehall insider told the Guardian: “The prime minister doesn’t want any new measures but we can’t rule it out. If we don’t want another lockdown, we may have to use other options – the question is how explicit we want to be about what those will be.”
With schools in England having just returned and the dual threat of Covid and flu filling hospitals, a start date for the programme of booster vaccines for people aged over 70 and frontline health and social care workers is also expected to be announced imminently. The UK’s medicines regulator last week granted emergency approval for the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs to be used as third shots to tackle potentially waning immunity. However, the vaccine rollout advisory body is yet to say whether it has approved boosters, and if so on what scale.
Separately, ministers are also planning to scrap the requirement for travellers from some countries to take a PCR test on arrival to the UK, given the costs and knock-on effect it is having on the aviation and tourism industry, and instead allow them present a lateral flow result. – Guardian