Covid: Pub vaccine passports is 'outrageous' idea which has 'not been thought through'

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener

The idea of pubs taking on the burden for checking customers' Covid-19 vaccine passports is "outrageous" and has "not been thought through", a landlady has said.

Boris Johnson has said a vaccine passport scheme for pubs and hospitality could play "a role" in keeping coronavirus rates down but warned discussion of such a concept is "premature."

The prime minister told the Commons Liaison Committee on Wednesday it may be left up to "individual publicans" as to whether they can ask punters for domestic vaccine passports to enter venues.

Lana Bewry is hoping to open her pub for customers to sit outdoors in a fortnight and does not believe the prime minister's suggestion would be helpful.

"I don’t want my staff or myself to be policing our customers, it’s just outrageous, I think it’s totally unfair. Why again are the pubs targeted?" She told ITV News.

Asked if she thinks the prime minister has got this one wrong, she said: "I don’t think any thought went into it. That’s my opinion, respectfully, Mr Johnson."

However, on Thursday, Mr Johnson appeared to row back on his comments, saying the idea was "premature" but that the government is "looking at the issues raised" by the concept.

He said: "Obviously, we are looking at the issues that are raised by vaccination certification, what can you do?

"There are three basic components.

"There's the vaccine, there's your immunity that you might have after you've had Covid, and then there's testing. There are three things that could work together.

"No decisions have been taken at all. One thing I will make clear is on April 12 when it will all be outdoors anyway."

He added: "All sorts of things are being considered, I really think it's a bit premature to start talking about that. What we want to do is roll out the vaccine programme and see what that builds in terms of general resistance to the virus.

"There is going to be a role for certification - what we said is we will be reporting on the work of the certification group in early April."

Last month, the PM tasked Michael Gove with leading a review into the possible use of vaccine certificates for businesses under plans to ease England’s lockdown.

He said a system to enter hospitality venues that relied on vaccine status alone “would not be appropriate”.

Asked about vaccine passports for pubs in the House of Commons, he said: "Consistency is often the hobgoblin of small minds.

"But my view on this issue is consistent – that a system that relied purely on vaccination would not be appropriate."

He added: "But what would be right was a system that ensured that we could open up our economy to the maximum extent that takes account both of vaccine status, but also of recent test status and indeed potentially also antibody status as well.

"But the best thing to do is to be guided by scientific and clinical advice and then to subject that advice to proper, rigorous, ethical questioning rather than taking an instant, off-the-shelf, instinctive approach."

The PM admitted last month that there were "complex" and "ethical" issues associated with allowing businesses to have a mandate requiring employees and customers to have the vaccine.

So could it work for pub and hospitality when lockdown ends?

Pubs have been forced to close for most of the lockdown. Credit: PA
  • How would it work?

Though no decision has been made, the PA news agency was told that pubs that may be allowed to scrap social distancing rules if they check customers’ vaccine certificates at the door.

The move could allow the industry - hardest hit by the Covid lockdown - to operate at a larger capacity allowing far more profitably when their doors reopen.

Under the suggestion being considered, those who did not want to enforce the checks would be allowed to reopen but would have to ensure social distancing is upheld.

  • How has the industry reacted?

The boss of the Shepherd Neame pub chain said on Thursday that making jabs mandatory for entry to pubs is a “fairly poorly thought out idea”, as trade bodies suggested the idea was “simply unworkable”.

Jonathan Neame, chief executive of Shepherd Neame, ruled out making vaccines mandatory for entry to his premises.

"I think it’s absolutely fine to exclude people where there is a situation of bad behaviour or drunkenness, and that’s already enshrined in law,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

"But if you’re going to exclude people for what they are, or what they have not done, that’s a wholly different issue which does touch on discrimination, civil liberties, and in this case data protection issues.

"I mean imagine a scene where a family is reconnecting for the first time after this crisis, where grandpa’s forgotten his vaccination certificate, mum is pregnant, and the kids are too young to have had it yet – who’s going to make the judgment on the door on that occasion?"

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He warned the move could also see bar staff “subject to intimidation”, adding: “This is fraught with difficulty, I think, and it is, in my view, a fairly poorly thought out idea at this stage.”

He said: "I’m very concerned about the pressure we put on our young people – 50% of people (working) in pubs are under 25 – you’re going to force them to make some very challenging judgments, because they’re not qualified or trained as door staff, as they might be in the nightclub sector.

"So those people might therefore be subject to intimidation, if people think they are being unfairly discriminated against, and then there’s the question about who’s going to enforce this – are police going to do random checks?

“I don’t think so, I don’t think that’s the society we want."

Pubs could reduce social distancing measures if they ask for patrons to show vaccine certification, it has been suggested. Credit: PA

Patrick Dardis, chief executive officer of 190-year-old pub owner and brewer Young’s, said the possibility of mandatory vaccines for pubs "is unworkable and the Government should stay clear of it."

"We do not support this idea," he added. "At this point in time, the Government should focus on encouraging people to enjoy their summer holidays in the UK than go abroad.

"This will be a far greater benefit to the economy than to opening up the huge risk of bringing Covid variants back to the UK from abroad.

"It is exactly how the pandemic entered into the UK in the first place."

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the UKHospitality trade body, said it is "crucial" that visits to pubs and restaurants are not subject to mandatory vaccination certification.

"It is simply unworkable, would cause conflict between staff and customers and almost certainty result in breaches of equality rules," she said.

The British Beer and Pub Association said the requirement would not be "appropriate or necessary".

  • What has been the political reaction so far?

Tory lockdown sceptic Steve Baker warned the move could create a "two-tier Britain", while Labour frontbencher Ed Miliband said it would be wrong to leave the public health measure up to pub landlords.

"I am a bit worried that the Prime Minister has made this up on the hoof," Mr Miliband said. "There are questions abound really on how this is going to work."

He added: "They seem to be leaving it up to pub landlords. What about people who have been advised not to have the vaccine - pregnant women for example? What about young people to whom the vaccine may not have yet been rolled out?

"So I think rather than making up policy on the hoof, we'll look at the government's proposals but they've got to come forward, they've got to talk to the hospitality industry and explain how this would work."

Covid Recovery Group deputy chairman Mr Baker, a former minister, urged the Government not to “fall into this ghastly trap”.

He said: "Whether the state legislates for it, recommends it or simply allows it, the result will be the same: a two-tier Britain that prevents pregnant women from taking part in society, given that the Government is telling them not to take the vaccine, or one where we turn back the clock and tolerate businesses turning away customers from communities which have shown an unfortunate hesitancy to take up the offer of a vaccine.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said the Government’s "latest wheeze" on Covid certificates is "the worst of all worlds".

"As well as burdening struggling pubs with extra cost, the idea that businesses can voluntarily bar certain customers, who may not even have been offered a vaccine, is deeply illiberal," he said.