Most Britons back vaccine passports if they mean the end of social distancing.
A survey showed strong support for Covid status certificates in every setting except shops, though a significant minority would be reluctant to visit pubs and restaurants if they had to show one, suggesting a threat to hospitality revenues if they were introduced.
The government said last week that Covid certificates “could play a role in reducing social-distancing requirements”. Any final decision is months off, so pubs and restaurants will initially open with distancing rules in place such as people from different groups staying at least one metre apart.
Polling by YouGov last week found that 61 per cent said they backed certificates being introduced if it allowed venues to lift social distancing, compared with 29 per cent who did not.
For music festivals and sports stadiums, 62 per cent were supportive compared with 28 per cent against, while for nightclubs 60 per cent were in favour with 30 per cent against. There was a similar split on theatres and cinemas. For restaurants, 54 per cent approved while 39 per cent were against.
Asked whether they would support certificates being used to lift social distancing in pubs and bars, 57 per cent backed the idea and 36 per cent opposed it. For gyms, 55 per cent were supportive with 34 per cent against.
The only setting in which Britons objected to the idea of certification was clothing stores and non-essential retail: only 36 per cent backed the idea. However, the polling also showed that 19 per cent of respondents said they would be less likely to visit a pub or restaurant if certificates were introduced.
Mitchells & Butlers, the pub and restaurant group, said certificates would “cause our industry numerous practical issues”. Anne Chow, director of Banana Tree, a chain of 11 Indochinese restaurants, said: “As much as you think requesting customers to show a Covid vaccine passport might work in an ideal world, it seems unpractical and unworkable, as well as discriminatory.”
Israel has introduced a green pass for vaccinated people to display. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, first spoke to Yuli Edelstein, his Israeli counterpart, about the issue three months ago. Since then, there have been numerous contacts between senior officials in both countries.
Plans to adapt the NHS app to deliver certificates is similar to the method used by Israelis to download their green pass from a health ministry app. Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, has put NHSX, the health service’s technology wing, in charge of developing options for digital certificates. Matthew Gould, its chief executive, was the UK ambassador to Israel for five years.
Ministers briefly feared that plans for certificates could be scuppered by an alliance between Conservative libertarians and Labour after Sir Keir Starmer suggested he was opposed to adding burdens to reopening businesses. Shadow cabinet figures now concede that government plans to include a free rapid test in the certificate scheme and to limit the settings in which it operates are “much more open” than the sort of scheme they were gearing up to oppose.
Starmer’s stance caught many Labour MPs unaware. “It’s one thing saying the Department of Health might mess up the computer scheme,” one senior backbencher said, “but if we look like we’re not in favour of something which will help businesses end social distancing as early as possible then we’ll be on the wrong side of the public”.
Lord Blunkett, the former Labour home secretary who tried to introduce ID cards, told The Times: “I can’t see how [a certification scheme] infringes on civil liberties. We already in certain circumstances require proof of age, and proof of vaccine or proof of test seem to me to be perfectly in line with that. It doesn’t seem to be a great civil liberties issue to say if you’re not prepared to have the vaccine or a test, then you’ve decided that for yourself — that’s a conscious effort to exclude yourself from events which would require it.”