Government consults on potential vaccine passports

Written by Jim Dunton and Sam Trendall on 17 March 2021 in News

Discussions have already taken place about EU scheme offering digital certificates

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The Cabinet Office has launched a two-week consultation on a proposal to introduce vaccine passports that would allow people to demonstrate their Covid-19 testing or inoculation status.

It said the exercise was part of the review on “Covid-status certification” that is being led by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove to explore whether passports could help to reopen the nation’s economy, reduce restrictions on social contact and improve safety.

The review is looking at ethical, equalities, privacy, legal and operational aspects of a possible certification scheme, and whether limits should be placed on organisations using it, the Cabinet Office said.

UK officials are already understood to have spoken to counterparts in the European Union earlier this month about the EU’s work on developing a vaccine passport in the form of a digital certificate that citizens can display on their mobile device.

Gove acknowledged certification would raise controversial topics in the process of using testing or vaccination data to confirm that a particular individual had a lower risk of transmitting Covid-19 to others. He also acknowledged concerns over privacy.

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“This review into Covid-status certification is an important part of our plan to help reopen the country and return to normal,” Gove said. “However, we recognise that there are complex issues of ethics, privacy and inclusion that need to be fully considered. That is why I want to get as many views as possible on Covid-status certification and its potential implications to help inform the review.”

The Cabinet Office said ministers had committed to concluding the review ahead of the final stage of the prime minister's “roadmap” for easing lockdown. That final stage, described as “step four” by the department, is currently due to happen no earlier than 21 June.

Setting out the roadmap last month, the government said 21 June was the first conceivable date that all pandemic-related limits on social contact could be lifted – with “appropriate mitigations in place”.

Other than signalling the government’s intentions to offer certification to both those who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 and those who have not been vaccinated but who have been tested, the Cabinet Office consultation's call for evidence sets out little detail of ministers’ thinking.

However, it does shine a light on the broad-brush issues ministers are considering, such as what kinds of venues may make use of Covid-status certificates,  what the implications might be for staff.

Subject areas guiding responses include “operational/delivery considerations”, employers' responsibilities, and legal and ethical considerations.

The consultation is open until 11.45pm on 29 March.  


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