Tories plot to wreck government's 'Covid passports' plan

Boris Johnson is facing a fresh assault on his plan for ‘Covid passports’ to go to the pub today amid claims ministers are trying to strongarm young people into getting vaccinated.

The government is putting together a system where the NHS app would be used as proof individuals have had jabs, or been recently tested.

People who do not have immunity could be required to test negative twice over three days in order to get freedom to mix freely in pubs and restaurants for 24 hours.

But the blueprint – being pushed by Michael Gove within Whitehall – is coming under intense fire from Conservatives who regard it as an unacceptable infringement of civil liberties.

Government sources have indicated that hope the policy will ‘focus minds’ among the younger people – who are expected to be far more reluctant to get jabs.

But Tories told MailOnline that instead of coercion minister should look at offering that generation £100 each to get immunised.   

Senior MP Steve Baker, deputy chair of the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group, is vowing a bid to wreck the ‘despicable’ plans, which are set to be laid out by Mr Johnson next month. 

Millions could go to pubs with no social distancing under plans to let drinkers use mobile phones to prove they are free of Covid

Millions could go to pubs with no social distancing under plans to let drinkers use mobile phones to prove they are free of Covid

Boris Johnson is facing a fresh assault on his plan for 'Covid passports' to go to the pub today amid claims ministers are trying to strongarm young people into getting vaccinated

Boris Johnson is facing a fresh assault on his plan for ‘Covid passports’ to go to the pub today amid claims ministers are trying to strongarm young people into getting vaccinated

Venues taking part could drop all social distancing rules as an incentive to ask customers to prove their Covid-free status

Venues taking part could drop all social distancing rules as an incentive to ask customers to prove their Covid-free status

Mr Baker told Times Radio: ‘The scheme that they intend, I understand, is that people would have to have two lateral flow tests about three days apart, and then they could apply to the government for 24 hours of freedom. I think if people just mull over how that would actually work, how it would actually feel. 

‘That to have one day where you could go and enjoy yourself, you had to have two tests over three days, and during that period, you’d be under the full weight of whatever the restrictions were. 

‘That is a pretty despicable way to live. It’s a way to live from which I recoil in absolute horror, applying to the government for 24 hours of freedom after a couple of tests.’

Although uptake among old generations in the UK has been extremely high, Israel has reported a sharp drop-off in under-35s attending appointments. 

A UK government source told the Guardian that the Covid passports proposals could help address the issue.

‘If the argument on health grounds doesn’t really wash because young people think they’re going to be fine and their grandparents and parents have all taken it, the strongest nudge is: ‘You’re not going to be able to be as free as you’d like.’ Not being allowed into pubs may focus minds,’ they said. 

Sir Desmond Swayne told MailOnline that primary legislation could be needed to allow pubs to discriminate on the grounds of health characteristics.

The former minister questioned whether it was practical for venues to check status, and warned it could have massive costs for already stricken businesses. 

‘Have these people been to a pub recently? They have been closed for some time, perhaps they have forgotten what it is like,’ he swiped. 

Sir Desmond also highlighted indications that the move could be partly an effort to push younger people into getting the jab.  

‘Was it indeed starting to nudge people about the need to get vaccinate, because they are concerned that although we’ve had very high rates so far as we move down the age profile people will be less concerned and therefore less inclined to make the effort?’ he said.

Sir Desmond added: ”I would suggest you would be better off taking the younger people who are going to be the problem and giving them some sort of incentive, some sort of bung to get it rather than some sort of imposition that is going to affect us all.

‘My generation is racing to get it without any need for encouragement at all.

‘If we are taking this as seriously as we ought to get out of what is an economic disaster, then giving people £100 quid for a vaccine is probably worth it – or whatever we reckon the market would need.’

The row over covid passports exploded after the Prime Minister revealed on Wednesday night that they may needed to go to the pub. 

He confirmed ministers were looking at the idea and suggested that individual pub landlords may be allowed to deny entry to drinkers who could not prove they’d had a covid jab.

The first details emerged about how Government ministers believe that such a scheme might operate.

Government officials are looking to modify the existing NHS app that already gives patients access to parts of their medical records and the ability to book appointments with their GP to facilitate the system.

It is different to the one used for contact tracing. To set it up patients must provide their NHS number, email address, phone number and then upload either an image of their passport or driving licence.

The smartphone then takes a scan of a person’s face to check it matches the one on their identification.

In future people could be able to log in to get details of their coronavirus vaccination, a recent test showing they did not have the virus, or results of an antibody test showing they are immune as they had already had it.

People who had previously had the virus would need to have an antibody test to show they still had immunity. This would remain valid for several weeks, so the person would not need such regular testing.

Once a person had one of these three, the phone app would give them a digital certificate that they could present at venues.

This would likely include a QR code that staff could scan to verify it was genuine, along with a picture of the person’s face.

People who do not have the app would be able to request a paper certificate, which will also likely include a QR code.

Cabinet Office minister mr Gove is conducting a review into how certificates potentially could be used.

The Government is yet to decide details such as how often someone who has not had the vaccine would need to get tested to get such a Covid certificate.

Under one option being considered a negative test result would only be valid for as little as 24 hours, meaning a person would face the need for daily testing if they wanted to go out regularly.

Ministers also are thinking about issues such as whether people would need to be supervised when using lateral flow tests, which provide results in 30 minutes, rather than allowing them to be conducted at home so they cannot lie about the result. Claims last night that people would need two negative lateral flow tests in three days to get a certificate were denied.

As well as being used by hospitality venues, such as pubs, clubs and restaurants, the certificates could be required to attend large gatherings such as sports matches.

The Prime Minister yesterday insisted ‘no decisions have been taken at all’ and that he would say more on the issue early next month. He also suggested that any scheme that ministers decide on may not start until every adult has been offered at least one jab.

He told reporters: ‘I do think there is going to be a role for certification… we’ll be reporting on the work of the certification group either on April 5 or April 12.

‘There are lots of difficult issues because there are some people who for medical reasons can’t get a vaccination, pregnant women can’t get a vaccination at the moment, you’ve got to be careful about how you do this. You might only be able to implement a thorough-going vaccination passport scheme even if you wanted such a thing in the context of when absolutely everybody had been offered a vaccine.’

Ministers have insisted that their target of offering all adults a vaccine by the end of July will be met despite the European Union’s threat to control supplies from the continent.

Mr Johnson said yesterday that previous coronavirus infections could be a feature used if certificates are adopted.

‘There are three basic components,’ he said. ‘There’s the vaccine, there’s your immunity you might have had after you’ve had Covid, and there’s testing – they are three things that could work together.

When Mr Johnson raised the issue of Covid certificates on Wednesday he said it would likely be up to landlords whether they demanded them, but yesterday his spokesman refused to rule out the possibility they could be mandatory.

In the Commons yesterday, Conservative former minister Dr Liam Fox said: ‘Where the Government were to try to compel individuals to carry some proof of either immunity through vaccine or a negative test, I think that would be completely unacceptable in a country where civil liber-ties are held so highly and so prized… I would not like to see a Conservative government in-tervene in the freedom of the private sector to choose the customers that they have.’

Tory select committee chairman William Wragg told MPs: ‘I cannot help but think we have a back of a fag packet-esque approach to this whole question of Covid vaccine certification.

‘If I could be so bold and suggest that as the Conservative Party, we might actually think what we believe in as a party, not let ourselves be carried away by a utilitarian urge that seems to have swept across the Treasury bench, leaving very few standing.’

Mr Gove was asked by Mr Wragg about remarks he made in December when he said people would not need to be vaccinated to go to the pub.

Mr Gove replied: ‘Consistency is often the hobgoblin of small minds, but my view on this is-sue is consistent. A system that relied purely on vaccination would not be appropriate, but what would be right was a system that ensured that we can open up our economy to the maximum extent, that takes account of vaccine status, but also recent test status and poten-tially antibody status.

‘But the best thing to do is to be guided by scientific and clinical advice and then to subject that advice to proper, rigorous, ethical questioning, rather than taking an instant, off-the-shelf, instinctive approach.’ 

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