Introducing Covid certificates is a ‘finely balanced’ decision, says Gove


Michael Gove has said the decision about whether to introduce “Covid certificates” to allow events and venues to open up this summer remains “finely balanced”.

The Cabinet Office minister was asked to carry out a review of the potential for certification three months ago, when Boris Johnson announced his roadmap to reopening the economy.

Confirmation of people’s vaccine and testing status – most likely through the NHS app – was initially envisaged as a way of allowing many venues such as pubs to reopen without social distancing.

But, giving evidence to MPs on Thursday, Gove stressed the potential downsides of the approach, including “the cost, and the hassle factor”.

He said if the government does go ahead, the scheme would only apply temporarily, and to bigger sites such as sport venues and large nightclubs – and MPs would be given a vote on the proposal.

Many libertarian Conservatives object to the idea – sometimes referred to as vaccine passports despite the fact they could also reflect testing status – on civil liberties grounds.

He insisted the government was not “locked on to” the idea, and had been examining it “pragmatically, to see if it can add value”. He added that 6 million people had already voluntarily downloaded the app, which is expected to be used to certify vaccination status for international travel.

Gove said no final decision on the domestic uses of certification would be announced until 7 June at the earliest, when MPs return to Westminster from a week-long recess, and stressed it might not be introduced in time for the planned fourth stage of the roadmap, from 21 June.

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“There’s no absolute necessary ironclad inviolable link between the two. But, naturally, as we contemplate reopening at stage four, people will understandably want to know what our approach towards certification will be, and how that will work.”

Gove and other senior government figures including deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam recently visited Israel to examine its green card system of vaccine certification.

But Gove pointed out that Israel has now suspended the use of green cards, because vaccination rates are high enough and case rates low enough to make them unnecessary.

He said that even if certification is introduced, he would expect it to be abolished again “later this year or early next”, if the virus is sufficiently under control.

At the start of the hearing with the public administration and constitutional affairs committee, Gove was challenged about Dominic Cummings’ claim at his marathon seven-hour hearing on Wednesday that the Cabinet Office was “terrifyingly shit”.

Asked whether he agreed with that assessment of his department, Gove said “no”. And he stressed the fact that many western democracies were “learning in real time” during the early days of the pandemic.



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