Coronavirus certificates could be needed in high street shops this summer, Downing Street has hinted, as Labour said that it was prepared to vote against the plans.
Boris Johnson indicated that the government was moving towards a system of domestic Covid status certificates in his press conference on Monday night, although he said that in certain “essential” areas of life such documents would never have to be presented.
Pressed for details yesterday on which shops would count as essential, the prime minister’s spokesman did not offer any examples.
The certificates will not be needed when non-essential retail opens on Monday, although social distancing rules will still be in place.
However, asked whether certificates might be needed for high street clothes shops at a later stage, the spokesman said: “We are looking at how Covid status certificates could have an important role to play domestically as well as internationally. We will come forward with more detail on them and how they may work in due course.” Asked twice whether clothes stores would count as essential shops that would not require certificates, he said: “I obviously don’t have that detail for you now.”
Paul Scully, small business minister, told Times Radio there was “plenty to talk about” on the ethics and practicalities of Covid status certificates.
He clarified certificates would not be required when pubs open up next week and on May 17 when further rules are relaxed.
Scully said: “There is absolutely no requirement or discussion about having any certification on next Monday when the pubs and non-essential retail open and on May 17 when indoor hospitality opens. But we will keep it under review.”
The certificates are likely to treat a dose of a coronavirus vaccine, a recent negative test or the presence of antibodies after contracting the disease as sufficient for someone to enter a venue where they are being used.
The question of whether the certificates would be needed for clothes shops was set as a test earlier in the day by Labour, which said it would oppose the certificates if they reached too far.
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, told Times Radio: “We will definitely have to look at the details of the legislation that is proposed, but I’m not convinced [about] asking someone to present their vaccine passport, a digital ID card on their phone, in order to gain entry to Next or H&M in the Highcross centre in Leicester — I don’t think that is fair. That is an ID card, that is discriminatory.”
More than 40 Conservative MPs oppose vaccine passports, raising the prospect that an alliance with Labour and other opposition parties could overturn the government’s majority.
Though the government has insisted there will be parliamentary scrutiny of the eventual proposals, it is unclear whether legislation would be required and thus what form a vote would take.
Mark Harper, chairman of the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group, said: “It is crucial MPs are allowed a vote on this, as Michael Gove promised last week. Whether the state legislates for it, recommends it or simply allows it, Covid status certification will lead to a two-tier Britain, and these issues need debating thoroughly and carefully.”
Labour MPs received a message from the party last night saying: “We would oppose domestic vaccine passports,” because “asking people to produce a vaccine certificate/passport to access pubs, shops etc is discriminatory, it will add a huge burden to businesses and come at huge cost to the taxpayer.”