Steerpike

Revealed: the UK’s Covid passport plan

Revealed: the UK’s Covid passport plan
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The government has gotten itself in a right muddle in recent weeks about its plans for ‘immunity passports’ for those who have received a vaccine – with ministers seemingly unable to agree whether passports will allow vaccinated members of the public to be free from restrictions.

On Monday, for instance, Mr S noted that minister James Cleverly would not say if immunity ‘cards’ or ‘passports’ were on the table, as he toured the broadcast studios in the morning.

Could the confusion lie in the plans the government has to issue ‘passports’ for those who have tested negative for the disease instead?

Mr S has obtained documents which show that the UK’s plans for negative Covid test ‘passports’ have progressed much further than previously thought.

While the Prime Minister merely hinted in late November that so-called ‘freedom passes’ could allow members of the public to be free from restrictions, the documents show that at the beginning of November, the Department for Health was asking businesses to build a ‘minimum viable product’ for the ‘Covid certification / passport’ scheme.

The documents explain that:

‘Negative Covid Test Status Evidence for citizens will be provided if they have obtained a negative Covid-19 test within a specific timeframe in addition to meeting other criteria.’

And, it looks like the passports could be used for more than just going to cinema. The Department of Health told those building the ‘passport’ system that:

‘The Government wishes to enable workplaces, educational centres, health and social care services and places of business to open to members of the public who have tested negative for Covid-19.’

It’s one thing for businesses to ask for members of the public to take a Covid test, another entirely to restrict access to schools and health services until people comply. A Department of Health spokesman told Mr S that:

‘Guidance on infection control measures are constantly under review to ensure we can return to normality as soon as possible while controlling the spread of the virus. About one in three people who have coronavirus have no symptoms and will be spreading it without realising it. That’s why it is vital that people continue to abide by relevant local restrictions and self-isolation guidance to suppress the virus and protect the NHS.’

It’s not clear though if the technology will simply stop at passports for those who have negative tests for the disease. While the Department of Health has ruled out using immunity passports for the vaccinated, it wouldn’t take much to adapt the testing tech for those who have had the shot.

Does this explain why ministers are so uneasy about ruling out the use of passports? Mr S can only hope it’s because testing passports – of all stripes – have finally been put to bed.

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to steerpike@spectator.co.uk.

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