LONDON — Britain will start piloting domestic COVID certificates this month, granting access to selected venues including sports stadiums and nightclubs, as ministers mull ways to reopen the U.K. economy post-lockdown.
People who have been vaccinated, received a recent negative test or have natural immunity after recovery from infection in the last six months, will be able to take part in test events at sports venues, conference centers and nightclubs. That includes the semi-finals this month of football’s FA Cup and the final in May.
Businesses, including pubs and restaurants, which are allowed to reopen outdoors on April 12, and indoors on May 17, will not be required to ask customers to prove their COVID status, Downing Street said. The hospitality sector warned Prime Minister Boris Johnson such a move would be unworkable and discriminatory when he floated the idea last month.
The plans for COVID certificates will be among the details Johnson is due to set out on Monday as part of a wider update on the U.K.’s route out of lockdown, which begun last week with people allowed to meet outdoors in groups of six.
A return to non-essential international travel on May 17 has not been ruled out, but Downing Street warned people may have to wait longer as some countries experience third waves of the disease. Ministers are also weighing the risk posed by so-called “variants of concern” which may be resistant to current vaccines. A traffic-light system of countries will be put in place when restrictions are lifted.
There will be no isolation requirement for travel from countries in the new “green category” — although pre-departure and post-arrival tests will still be required. The “red” and “amber” restrictions would remain as they are now, with the requirement to either quarantine or self-isolate when returning to the U.K., Downing Street said in a press release setting out its thinking.
Meanwhile, Germany is also looking at introducing a system to allow vaccinated people into shops, restaurants and hotels, Health Minister Jens Spahn told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
“Anyone who has been fully vaccinated can, in the future, be treated like someone who has tested negative,” Spahn said.
Germany is considering a system of rapid testing to reopen its retail and hospitality sectors. New findings from the country’s infectious disease agency, obtained by Bild, suggest the risk of transmission is so low two weeks after the second vaccine dose that those fully inoculated could skip tests and quarantines for shopping and travel.
The U.K. government is already facing strong opposition in parliament to its plans for domestic COVID certificates. Over 70 MPs, including more than 40 of Johnson’s own Conservative backbenchers are opposed to so-called COVID passports within the U.K.
Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister overseeing the certificate plans, said COVID certificates would be “an inevitability for international travel,” in an article for the Sunday Telegraph.
The European Commission has proposed a so-called digital green certificate, which would create a bloc-wide travel pass that confirms coronavirus vaccination, immunity or testing status.
Gove said certificates could be “a valuable aid to opening up our domestic economy and society faster.”
Test events would have to be closed to the public until much later this year without a certificate scheme, Gove pointed out. He also warned businesses could start setting up their own private certification schemes to restrict access if the government did not act.
“Unless the Government takes a lead we risk others establishing the rules of the road. So where should the lines be drawn to help protect freedoms, respect privacy, promote equality and get us back to normality? And how can we ensure our approach is proportionate and time-limited?,” he wrote.
“Appropriate exemptions” for people who have been advised not to be vaccinated, or who cannot be tested repeatedly, are being looked at, and the NHS is working on digital and non-digital certificates, Downing Street said.
Sarah Wheaton contributed reporting.