Sajid Javid has announced the government has dropped plans for domestic vaccine passports for use in nightclubs and other crowded venues this month in a dramatic U-turn – just days after No 10 defended the proposals.
The health secretary revealed ministers “will not be going ahead with plans for vaccine passports” in what will be viewed as a concession to rebel backbench Tory MPs who have protested against the “discriminatory” and “authoritarian” policy.
Boris Johnson first announced in July the certification would become mandatory by the end of September for specific premises, and only four days ago the vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, insisted it was the “right thing to do” amid severe criticism in the Commons.
Seizing on the climbdown on Sunday, Labour said the government’s approach to vaccine passports had been “shambolic from the start” with “no clarity, no objectives and a speedy U-turn”.
Mr Javid’s remarks come as the prime minister prepares to outline to the country how the government intends to manage the “challenges” presented by the pandemic over the autumn and winter months at a press conference this week.
The cabinet minister stressed that he was “not anticipating any more lockdowns” in England, but said it would be “irresponsible” to take any options off the table due to the uncertainty of the Covid pandemic.
A final decision is also expected this week from the Joint Committee on Immunisation and Vaccinations (JCVI) on booster jabs for people in vulnerable categories, as ministers await separate advice from the UK’s four chief medical officers on vaccinations for healthy children aged 12-15.
“There’s a lot of defences we need to keep in place because this virus hasn’t gone anywhere – there’s still a pandemic,” Mr Javid told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
However, scrapping plans to introduce vaccine passports in England later this month for venues such as nightclubs, the cabinet minister said: “We just shouldn’t be doing things for the sake of it. It’s fair to say most people don’t instinctively like the idea.
“We were right to properly look at it, to look at the evidence,” he added. “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.”
Mr Javid’s comments also came just moments after he said in a separate interview the government wanted to “avoid” using domestic vaccine passports, insisting no final decision had been made.
“It has to be something that is absolutely, absolutely necessary with no alternatives,” he stressed on Sky News. “We have been looking at that, we’ve been open about that. Instinctively, I don’t like the idea at all of people having to present papers to do basic things.”
Reacting to the plans, the human rights group, Liberty, said: “This is a victory for everyone who has stood against the [government’s] discriminatory vaccine passport scheme. We’ll be watching what happens next and examining the details to make sure our rights are safe.”
Michael Kill, the CEO of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), also welcomed the move, adding: “We hope that businesses will now be able to plan for the future with some degree of certainty, regain confidence from customers and the workforce and start to rebuild a sector that has consistently been at the sharp end of this pandemic.”
But Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said the reversal in policy was “the culmination of a summer of chaos from ministers and they urgently need to get a grip before winter”, as she branded the U-turn “shambolic”.
The Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said the move was a victory for all those “who stood up for over civil liberties against these deeply illiberal and unworkable plans”.
“The Conservatives have needlessly sown confusion among businesses for months by threatening to introduce Covid passports, and will not be forgiven for it,” he added. “After this inevitable U-turn, the Conservatives must now see sense and scrap the unnecessary and draconian Coronavirus Act altogether.”
Earlier this week, however, members of the Scottish parliament backed plans for vaccine passport scheme for nightclubs, major sporting and music events north of the border.
The 68-55 vote in favour will mean that from 1 October, only people who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 will be allowed into clubs and large-scale events such as concerts and festivals.
On vaccinations for healthy 12-15-year-olds, Mr Javid also told Sky News: “We have been looking at that. I’m not in a position to make a final decision on it.
“I have received advice a week or so ago from the JCVI, our committee of experts. Their advice was that I should ask the chief medical officers of the UK, the four chief officers in the UK, to take a look at not just the health aspects of vaccination, but whether there were any broader reasons that it might be in the welfare of children, and that’s what I’ve done and they need to be given the time to look at this, and I will wait to see what they have to say.”
Asked when the chief medical officers will give their advice, Mr Javid said: “I’m not going to push them – they need to take their time. It’s independent advice, as it should be. They need to take their time.
“I don’t think they will be taking that much longer, but in the meantime I have asked the department to work with schools, the school vaccination teams, to start preparing, just in case we have a situation where their advice is to recommend it, and then if the government accepts that then I just want to be able to go ahead with it.”
Mr Javid said he will not “push” chief medical officers for their advice on vaccinating 12-15-year-olds, but added he has asked for schools to start preparing.
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