Benefits against costs of vaccine passports are finely balanced – Gove

The benefits of a vaccine passports scheme to gain entry to venues are “finely balanced” and it is not guaranteed to come into force when Covid restrictions end, according to a senior minister.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has been leading a review into the use of Covid status certification for the Government, visiting Israel as part of the process to assess the effectiveness of a similar “green pass” scheme deployed in the Middle East country.

Giving evidence to MPs on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Mr Gove said asking people to prove their Covid status could allow large events, such as football matches, to resume at full capacity if coronavirus restrictions look likely to remain in place.

The Prime Minister on Thursday told reporters he had not seen “anything currently in the data” to divert from the target of lifting all measures by June 21, as part of Step 4 of his road map out of lockdown.

Mr Gove said there was not an “ironclad” link between the June 21 date and the possible introduction of Covid status certification, but that its deployment domestically could help “economic and social life … return more quickly”.

He said conversations had taken place with the Scottish Government about recognising paper-proof of a jab to ensure vaccinated Scotland football fans can attend the clash with England in the European Championships at Wembley this summer, which raises the prospect of a form of vaccine passport being in force by June 18.

A review into the potential use of the certification – which would include not only vaccine details but also whether someone has a negative test result or has previously been infected with the virus – had been due to report this month, but that has now been delayed until after the Commons returns from a recess in the week of June 7.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said if such a scheme proved too costly or too much “hassle” for the hospitality industry, then the Government would not pursue it.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

The NHS app has already been altered to allow users to prove their vaccine status and Mr Gove said further changes were in the pipeline so test results could be declared as well.

Asked by MPs how balanced in his view were the costs and benefits of Covid status certification, he replied: “Finely balanced.”

Detailing how the system could work, Mr Gove said: “To take a case in point, if it is the case that we want to see the restoration of Premier League football, which I certainly do, then in order for that to happen we would want to have, and indeed Premier League teams would also want to have, their stadia full to maximum capacity.

“Certification may play a role in that if the alternative were to, for example, to continue with social distancing and other forms of restrictions such as crowd capacity limits.

“So, in that sense, and that is just one example, the deployment of certification and the investment in that infrastructure would enable the economic and social life of the country to return more quickly and safely.”

Coronavirus – Fri Apr 30, 2021
Pilot events, such as one at Circus Nightclub at Bramley-Moore Dock in Liverpool, have been held to assess how to reopen hospitality safely (Richard McCarthy/PA)

He denied that vaccine passports were a way of encouraging take-up of jabs and said many venues would be excluded from such measures.

The Cabinet minister said public transport operators, libraries, Government buildings, job centres and essential retail would not be allowed to ask for someone’s Covid status before entry, should the scheme be brought in.

Dr Susan Hopkins, interim chief medical adviser for NHS Test and Trace, said data indicated that opening up events to vaccinated people or those who could prove they had either previously contracted Covid or were negative could reduce the transmission risk by as much as half.

The Public Health England official told the committee: “All of those things together are likely to reduce the risk of transmission by 30%-50%.”

It comes after Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden heralded pilot events a “real success” after only 15 positive cases were detected among the 58,000 participants, who attended events ranging from an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley to a nightclub in Liverpool.