Plans to introduce vaccine passports for access into nightclubs and large events in England will not go ahead, the health secretary has said.
Sajid Javid told the BBC: “We shouldn’t be doing things for the sake of it.”
He said the government had looked at the evidence, adding: “I’m pleased to say we will not be going ahead.”
It was thought the plan, which came under criticism from venues and some MPs, would be introduced at the end of this month.
No 10 stressed it would be kept “in reserve” should it be needed over autumn or winter.
Under the scheme, people would have been required to show proof – whether of double vaccination, a negative Covid test or finishing self-isolating after a positive PCR test – in order to gain entry to clubs and other crowded events.e
The Night Time Industries Association warned the plans could have crippled the industry and seen nightclubs facing discrimination cases.
The industry body has since welcomed the move, saying it hoped businesses could now plan with some certainty and start to rebuild the sector and regain customers’ confidence.
The Music Venue Trust, which aims to protect grassroots venues, also welcomed the announcement, describing vaccine passports as “problematic”.
There was opposition too from Tory MPs on the Covid Recovery Group and the Liberal Democrats, whose leader Ed Davey called them “divisive, unworkable and expensive”.
Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show, Mr Javid said: “We just shouldn’t be doing things for the sake of it or because others are doing, and we should look at every possible intervention properly.
“I’ve never liked the idea of saying to people you must show your papers or something to do what is just an everyday activity, but we were right to properly look at it.
“We’ve looked at it properly and, whilst we should keep it in reserve as a potential option, I’m pleased to say that we will not be going ahead with plans for vaccine passports.”
Asked if the government was “running scared” on the policy after criticism from its own backbenchers, Mr Javid rejected this, saying vaccine passports were not needed because of other things in the “wall of defence” including high vaccine uptake, testing, surveillance and new treatments.
In the interview, Mr Javid also said:
- he wanted to “get rid” of PCR tests for travel and has asked for advice on the issue
- he was “not anticipating” any more lockdowns, although it would be “irresponsible to take everything off the table”
- if the UK’s chief medical officers advised 12 to 15-year-olds should be vaccinated, “we can start within a week” and schools were already preparing for it. The UK’s advisory body – the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) – has recommended against doing so except for children with particular health problems – but the final say is with the CMOs.
The move to scrap vaccine passports appears to be a sharp U-turn by the government.
On the same TV programme last week, Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said the end of September was the right time to start the vaccine passport scheme for sites with large crowds because all over-18s would have been offered two jabs by then and it was the “best way” to keep the night industry open.
Analysis: A government under pressure
By Ione Wells, BBC political correspondent
The UK government had faced pressure from a number of its own Tory MPs, as well as from nightclubs and the events sector, to ditch plans for vaccine passports in England.
First, there was a hint they were pushing ahead. Last week, Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said they would be required in nightclubs and other indoor venues in England by the end of the month.
Then came the row-back. On Friday, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said they would “almost certainly” be necessary for nightclubs this autumn, but said he’d prefer a more limited use of them.
By Sunday at 08:30 BST, the health secretary said on Sky News that the government hoped to avoid having them, and within the next hour told the BBC they will not be going ahead with plans.
Clearly there has been debate within government itself about their use but a decision has, for now, been made – even if the option will be kept in “reserve”.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said the government’s approach to Covid passports had been “shambolic from the start” and lacked any clarity from ministers about the purpose of the passports and how they would work.
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael accused the Conservatives of needlessly sowing confusion among businesses for months and called for them to scrap the “unnecessary and draconian Coronavirus Act altogether”.
Some large venues such as football stadiums, live music venues and music festivals have already been asking people to prove their vaccination status to gain entry.
An Office for National Statistics survey, covering 25 August to 5 September, found about 1 in 10 adults across Great Britain reported that they had been asked to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test to be allowed into a venue or event.
On Saturday, Manchester United introduced Covid spot-checks on match days at Old Trafford, with the club saying it expected proof of full vaccination to become mandatory in the Premier League from 1 October.
The Premier League said at the start of the 2021-22 season that fans would face random spot-checks of their Covid-19 status at grounds over the first few match days. Brighton, Chelsea and Tottenham have introduced mandatory checks for fans at their stadiums.
Scotland is taking a different approach to England – they will bring in a vaccine passport for over-18s for entry to nightclubs and many large events from October.
In Wales, ministers will decide next week whether to introduce the scheme. There are no current plans for a similar scheme in Northern Ireland.
A series of key government announcements and decisions are expected in the coming days.
On Monday, Boris Johnson is expected to outline plans for booster jabs. Mr Javid said that if the JCVI advised having a broad booster programme, he was “confident” it could start this month “as planned all along”.
And on Tuesday, the prime minister will set out his Covid Winter Plan for England, likely to include contingency measures that would be implemented if the NHS was at risk of becoming overwhelmed.