Government officials said England is set to adopt vaccine passports for large events this summer. The move followed the U.K. National Health Service (NHS) app being updated to indicate a person’s Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination status. The vaccine passport plan – initially designed for overseas travel – aligned with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown.
Under the proposal, the NHS app may be used to verify if someone is vaccinated for COVID-19 or not before they can attend an event with more than 1,000 people. The plan also outlined that unvaccinated people may be required to undergo rigorous testing.
A source briefed on the matter said phase two trials would include events with greater capacity to find “cracks in the system” – including venues at full capacity. They added that the trials would ensure that the country would be “fully ready for the summer.” Another source said: [The] phase two trials will be bigger and better. We want to get crowds back safely in higher numbers.” They continued that the trials will also include a mix of music and sports events.
Meanwhile, senior British government officials put in their two cents on the plan. One senior official confirmed that the first phase of trials for the vaccine passport “have gone very well.” While the official surmised that vaccine passports would almost certainly be required for large events, proof of vaccination for pubs and restaurants “have been ruled out.”
Another senior official remarked that the government’s focus has been “on big events and higher capacity venues.” They clarified that no final decision had been taken regarding vaccine passports.
A government spokesperson said that vaccine passports “could have an important role to play both domestically and internationally, as a temporary measure.” They added that digital COVID-19 certificates via the NHS app could help open up higher-risk settings safely. Furthermore, the certificates would consider a recent negative test, complete vaccination schedule or natural immunity after sickness into account.
However, a third government insider involved with the plan said that vaccine passports may become more widespread if a third COVID-19 wave hits the U.K. later this year. They added: “It may be that [COVID-19] certification has a role to play in other venues to stop closures in the autumn or winter if there’s a big surge.”
Vaccine passport proposal followed positive findings during pilot events done in the U.K.
As of writing, the digital passport has been mainly used to prove that someone had already been vaccinated for international travel. Speaking to the Daily Mail, a government source said the NHS app update was designed to help people comply with COVID-19 vaccination requirements set by other countries. However, the same source clarified that the government has not yet decided on a vaccine passport scheme domestically. (Related: New update to UK NHS tracking app turns it into a VACCINE PASSPORT.)
The proposal also followed positive findings by the U.K. Events Research Program (ERP), which “aims to examine the risk of [COVID-19] transmission from attendance at events.” According to an April 19 government press release, the ERP explored “ways to enable people to attend a range of events safely” with a focus on testing and non-pharmaceutical interventions.
The ERP implemented a number of health and safety measures to address COVID-19 in a number of pilot events – including the Brit Awards last May 11 and the Football Association Cup Final last May 15. These measures included pre-attendance testing, temperature checks and good ventilation of indoor spaces. According to the technical group, strict adherence to these measures helped lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission in large events.
COVID-19 test results from attendees five days after the pilot events showed a minimal risk of transmission. The ERP said the hopeful findings suggested that attendees can participate in events without the need for masks and social distancing. The findings also addressed scientists’ fears that such events could result in COVID-19 outbreaks.
With the current turn of events, the U.K. government will proceed with the second phase of evaluating the possibility of large events. The vaccine passports will also see use at up to 10 events before restrictions are lifted on June 21.
However, some have voiced out uncertainty regarding the proposal – with arguments centering on possible discrimination or exclusion for certain people. Others have questioned whether vaccine passports have any clear public health value at all. But supporters quickly responded to the criticism by claiming that a recent negative COVID-19 test or post-sickness immunity will be allowed in place of vaccination to prevent any discrimination. (Related: Experts worry vaccine passports may be discriminatory, but governments are moving ahead with them anyway.)
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