London: Vaccine certificates are set to be required to enter nightclubs and other large, crowded venues in England, sparking warnings from hospitality businesses that the plan will put thousands of jobs at risk. Prime Minister Boris Johnson appealed to millions of young people to come forward for their Covid shots, saying some of "life's pleasures" will be "increasingly dependent on vaccination".
The proposal marks a major shift from Johnson, a libertarian who has railed against state interference and been reluctant to endorse compulsory vaccine passes. But he argued that once all adults had been offered shots, formalizing 'Covid passports' will be the responsible thing for some venues to do.
"We want people to be able to take back their freedoms as they can today," Johnson said. "But to do that we must remain cautious and we must continue to get vaccinated."
Nightclubs reopened for the first time in England after restrictions expired on Monday. On what British media have called "Freedom Day', crowds packed into venues that have been shut since the UK's first lockdown in March 2020.
While ending restrictions offers a potential boost for the economy, industry group UKHospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls said the new vaccine certificates policy would be "a hammer blow" for nightclub operators, putting jobs in danger. "Covid passports will be a costly burden that run the risk of creating flash-points between staff and customers," Nicholls said. "This new policy is devastating and risks hitting these fragile businesses and derailing their recovery and costing thousands of jobs."
Johnson's attempt to kickstart some sectors worst hit by the pandemic is already running into trouble. Daily case rates continue to rise, with the UK recording the highest increase in infections anywhere in the world over the weekend. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised Americans to avoid travel to the UK due to "very high" Covid rates.
Critical sectors including public transport have been hit by staff shortages as an estimated 1.7 million people are told to self-isolate after coming into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Ministers moved to exempt critical workers in sectors such as healthcare, rail and aviation from the need to isolate as contacts of Covid cases.
A period of isolation
Johnson himself was forced to appear at the press conference via video link from isolation, after Health Secretary Sajid Javid contracted coronavirus. Conservative member of Parliament Mark Harper criticized the announcement on vaccine identification in crowded venues.
He said the policy is "effectively moving to compulsory vaccination" and demanded to see the evidence ahead of a debate and vote in Parliament in September. Harper's Tory colleague, former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, asked "why are we waiting" until September to introduce the Covid pass requirement, given how many more cases are likely to be caused by opening nightclubs now.
Business Minister Paul Scully said the government is still determining which venues will require vaccination for entry from September, with a focus on settings with limited ventilation.
Letting everyone know
"We want to give fair warning now," Scully said, when asked why the policy isn't being introduced immediately. "We'll work through the detail."
From August 16, isolation rules for people who have received both their Covid vaccine shots will be lifted. By the end of September, everyone at 18 and over will have had the chance to receive both shots and to have had two weeks for immunity to take effect.
At that point, full vaccination is likely to become a condition of entry to nightclubs and other venues where large crowds gather under the government's plan. Proof of a negative test will no longer be sufficient for a Covid pass.
The measure will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and there will be exemptions for people with genuine medical reasons for not being vaccinated. But if nightclubs and other venues do not voluntarily adopt Covid passes for customers, the government will be ready to change the law to force them to, Johnson said.
"We want nightclubs to behave responsibly, use the NHS Covid app," Johnson said. "We reserve the right to go to mandation for that if we have to."