'Covid status certification' could allow safe return of mass gatherings

Boris Johnson is to set out plans to develop a "Covid status certification" scheme to enable the safe return of mass gatherings and indoor events as lockdown restrictions ease in England.

Sunday, 4th April 2021, 11:13 am
Updated Sunday, 4th April 2021, 11:16 am

Officials are planning a series of trial events over the coming months as they look to find a way for venues such as football grounds and nightclubs to reopen without the need for social distancing.

The Prime Minister - who will set out more details on Monday - said the Government was doing "everything we can" to enable the return of mass events.

The move comes as the Government announced that more than five million people in the UK have now received their second dose of the vaccine.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson

However, MPs will want to study the proposals closely with many deeply suspicious about anything which smacks of a "vaccine passport" for domestic use.

More than 40 Tory MPs have publicly declared their opposition to the idea, and Mr Johnson could struggle to get the plan through Parliament if they decide to oppose it.

In developing the scheme, officials will take into account three factors - whether an individual has received the vaccine, has recently tested negative for the virus, or has "natural immunity" having tested positive in the previous six months.

The NHS is said to be currently working on ways of providing people with the means to demonstrate their Covid status through "digital and non-digital routes".

The review is also looking at how ventilation and testing on entry could facilitate the safe return of audiences return to mass events and closed settings.

Ministers believe the scheme will be most useful in managing the risks where the are large numbers of people in close proximity such as music festivals, sporting matches and nightclubs.

Setting where certification will not be required include essential shops and public transport.

It will also not apply to businesses which are set to reopen over the coming weeks such as pubs, restaurants and non-essential retail.

Officials are working with clinical and ethical experts to ensure there are "appropriate exemptions" for people who are advised to the vaccine and for whom repeat testing would be difficult.

The first trial is due to take place on April 16 at the Hot Water Comedy Club in Liverpool, to be followed two days later by the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.

Other events where the scheme is to be tested include the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield - running from from April 17 to May 3 - and a mass participation run at Hatfield House on April 24 and 25.

The pilots will culminate with the FA Cup Final, again at Wembley, on May 15.

Writing in The Mail On Sunday, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: "We will examine the risks closely, plan to keep people safe, mitigate the dangers and, in doing, so we will be able to have spectators returning in full to events once more.

"Each successful pilot is a huge step forward towards the life we all miss sorely, every day.

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 Prime Minister will also outline the Government's approach for easing restrictions on foreign travel when its global travel task force reports on April 12.

Ministers have made clear that the ban on foreign travel will remain in place until at least May 17.

When it is finally lifted, it will be be replaced by a risk-based "traffic light" system with red, amber and green ratings for countries around the world.

This will be based on a range of factors - including the proportion of the population that has been vaccinated, rates of infection, emerging new variants and the country's access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing.

Travellers arriving from countries rated "green" will not be required to isolate - although pre-departure and post-arrival tests will still be needed.

For those classed as "amber" or "red", the restrictions will remain as they are will arrivals required to isolate or enter quarantine.

Officials said it was still too early to predict which countries would be on which list and they continue to advise against booking summer holidays abroad.

A further social distancing review is looking into ways of allowing closer contact between friends and families, enabling greater capacity on public transport and reduce distancing requirements within venues and workplaces.