Where you will and won't need vaccine passport – but they won't start next week


Boris Johnson is working on a Covid “certificate” which you could use to get to events, travel and gigs later this summer.

Widely dubbed vaccine passports, they could in fact also show if you’ve had a recent test, or you have natural immunity from being infected in the past.

It’s claimed these certificates could help Brits get back to some level of normality when other restrictions ease this summer.

But they’ve prompted a revolt from Tory MPs, after ministers claimed “we aim to remove all legal limits on social contact and restore our freedoms” from June 21.

Labour MPs also have concerns on civil liberties grounds, and fears about how the system will actually work.

There is no start date for a Covid passport, no final design, and a promise that you won’t need it to go to a pub when beer gardens open in England on Monday.

So what is the debate actually about and what might passports look like?

Here’s what you need to know.

What is a Covid passport?

A ‘vaccine passport’ is a catch-all term for a system where people prove they are Covid “safe” to get into a venue, travel or work setting.

The government calls it “Covid certification” because it won’t just mean showing you’ve had a vaccine.

You could also show you’ve got natural immunity, or have had a recent negative Covid test.

For this reason, the government doesn’t like using the term ‘vaccine passport’ because it over-simplifies what we’re talking about.

But we’re using the phrase here to explain it, because it’s already entered common use.



The certificates could use a re-tooled version of the NHS Covid-19 app
The certificates could use a re-tooled version of the NHS Covid-19 app

How would it work?

The NHS is working on providing both “digital and non-digital” ways for you to show your vaccine, testing or antibody status in a Covid ‘certificate’ or ‘passport’.

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It’s understood this may use a re-worked version of the NHS Covid-19 app, which has already been downloaded more than 22million times for testing and venue check-ins.

The tool could show one or all of three things to “certify” your Covid status:

  • Your up-to-date vaccine record;
  • Whether you’ve had a negative lateral flow (rapid) or PCR (lab-based) test, taken on the same day or the day before your admission to a venue;
  • Proof of natural immunity, such as through a previous positive PCR test no less than 180 days ago, as long as you’ve completed the self-isolation period.


It wouldn't just show whether you've had the vaccine
It wouldn’t just show whether you’ve had the vaccine

Why are they being developed?

For foreign travel it’s obvious – other countries will demand a vaccine status to allow entry to Brits.

But for domestically within the UK it’s more complicated. Ministers had claimed domestic passport were “discrimination” and would not happen, but have since U-turned.

Explaining the massive change of heart, the government said it had to act because pubs and other venues would start asking for people’s Covid status regardless.

“Even without Government intervention, COVID-status certification is likely to become a feature of our lives until the threat from the pandemic recedes,” the government says.

“Likewise, in the UK, businesses and other organisations are able to ask customers for proof of COVID- status in order to access their premises, as long as they are compliant with equalities legislation.

“The Government believes that introducing a ban on this would in most cases be an unjustified intrusion on how businesses choose to make their premises safe.”

Where will you probably need a Covid passport?

The government says certification is most likely at ticketed events, such as:

  • Theatres
  • Nightclubs
  • Mass events such as festivals or sports events

That’s because “large numbers of people are brought together in close proximity.”



Big stadium gigs like this one in Edinburgh could return
Big stadium gigs like this one in Edinburgh could return

Where might you need a Covid passport?

The government has not ruled out introducing Covid passports – or allowing them to be used by individual businesses – in pubs, restaurants, cafes and bars.

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The review says certification “could play a role in reducing social distancing requirements in other settings which people tend to visit more frequently, for example in hospitality settings.”

This could mean, for example, that you have to show a Covid passport at your local pub in exchange for the rule of six being dropped indoors from June 21.

But the government has ruled out any chance of passports being needed in hospitality venues before June 21.

You will not have to show a Covid passport when beer gardens reopen in England on April 12, or when indoor areas of pubs reopen from May 17.

The review adds: “The Government recognises this has significant implications for businesses and their customers. So this will be further considered in consultation with industry.”

Where will you definitely not need a Covid passport?

There are some settings where the government says Covid passports “should never be required”. This is “in order to ensure access for all”. They include:

  • Essential public services
  • Public transport
  • Essential shops

When will passports be introduced?

We don’t have an exact date, but we do have a few big clues.

Firstly, we know passports will be trialled through the Events Research Programme, which is piloting new ways of bringing back crowds for big events.

The programme runs from April 16 (a comedy gig in Liverpool) to May 15 (the FA Cup Final at Wembley), so we know widespread passports won’t happen before then.

Secondly, we know further proposals will be presented to Parliament in late April.

Thirdly, we know big events like gigs and sports fixtures can only resume from May 17 at the earliest anyway – so passports won’t be brought in before that.

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Fourthly, the government has specifically guaranteed you won’t need passports in hospitality venues – like pubs – any earlier than June 21.

“In May, you will be able to go inside the pub and enjoy your drink, and there is no question of a vaccine certification being asked for,” said Nadhim Zahawi.

So it seems any passport scheme is months away, unless you happen to be going to one of the pilot events over the next six weeks. It could be introduced as early as mid-May for big events, but no earlier than June 21 for pubs.

What about people who can’t get vaccines for medical reasons?

It’s unclear so far. The government is still working on how to ensure people aren’t discriminated against if they’re unable to get the vaccine.

There are also questions over whether vaccine passports will be needed for children – who generally aren’t being given the jab.

The government accepts: “It is important that there are appropriate exemptions for people for whom vaccination is not advised and repeat testing is difficult.

“Equally, the Government wants to be sure that the benefits of any such approach are fully interrogated in public debate and that the deliverability of COVID-status certification is rigorously tested, along with analysis of the potential economic impacts that COVID-status certification would have across different settings.”



Boris Johnson is still working on how to ensure people aren't discriminated against
Boris Johnson is still working on how to ensure people aren’t discriminated against

Could Covid passports be defeated in Parliament?

Yes, it’s possible.

The potential use of certificates is opposed by at least 40 Conservative MPs – and Labour is also sceptical about the measure.

That could be enough to wipe out Boris Johnson’s 80-odd parliamentary majority, though it seems possible there could be some kind of compromise struck.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi today signalled there will be a vote on any scheme.

He said: ” Michael Gove is consulting with all stakeholders, including Parliamentarians, so we are not there yet. But the Prime Minister made it very clear, if we do get to that place, then of course we will go to Parliament for a vote.”





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