Katy Balls

Gove hints at vaccine passport app

Gove hints at vaccine passport app
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It wasn't so long ago that ministers were lining up on broadcast to insists vaccine passports were out of the question when it came to the UK. While they could be used for travel abroad, the UK was — as Matt Hancock put it — not a 'papers, please' country. Instead, the UK appears to be turning into an 'app, please' nation. On Monday, Michael Gove met with MPs across the House for a private 'listening exercise' on immunity IDs.

Although the purpose of the session was supposedly to gather MPs' thoughts on the issue of vaccine passports, attendees were left with the distinct impression that they would be going ahead regardless of their views. The general idea being discussed is that individuals could be asked to show either a vaccine passport, a negative Covid test or proof of antibodies to enter a venue.

MPs on the call understand it will likely take the form of an app — with NHSX (behind the troubled contact tracing app) already looking into how this might work. The mention of NHSX led to concern among Tory MPs — who believe the UK government is riding high on the success of the vaccine programme and thereby are once again overestimating the ability of the state to deliver complicated schemes. Others worry separately about rapid tests for the unvaccinated acting as a condition of entry. 'We’ve had a lot of trouble with testing before,' says one senior Tory. 'Relying on testing for access to pubs and restaurants could backfire if the system falls down.'

In terms of what vaccine passports would be used for, the debate continues. Some in government believe they could be used for day-to-day businesses such as pubs. Others are pushing for them simply to be used for mass events. There is a concern from those involved in the process that widespread use could be very complicated in terms of logistics. Meanwhile, some ministers believe it could be the final death knell for already struggling pubs. 

There remain MPs opposed to the idea, full stop. Some Tory MPs who make up the Covid Recovery Group believe the introduction of vaccine passports domestically in any form could lead to a segregation of society. They are joined in their opposition by the Liberal Democrats. But with just 11 Lib Dem MPs, unless Labour looks to oppose the measures, the government is unlikely to face a large scale rebellion.