Shoppers in the UK could be required to show a vaccine passport to visit clothes stores under plans to reopen the economy without increasing Covid-19 cases.
Ministers are currently reviewing the role of “Covid-status certification” to allow people certain freedoms by proving they have been inoculated against the coronavirus, had a recent negative test result or have recovered from previous infection.
A government report published on Monday said “there are some settings (such as essential public services, public transport and essential shops) where Covid-status certification should never be required”.
But the report gave no detail on whether certification would be required to enter shops selling non-essential goods.
Boris Johnson’s spokesman on Tuesday did not rule out the future use of Covid passports in clothing stores such as H&M and Next.
“We have been clear that we will not require them as businesses reopen in stages two and three of the road map,” he said.
“But, again, the PM was clear that longer term, there will be some essential services such as essential retail and public transport where they will not be required.”
He said Covid passports would not be introduced before most restrictions are due to be eased on June 21.
Mr Johnson on Monday gave the green light for the next stage of England's lockdown easing to go ahead next week when the hospitality sector can resume outdoor service and non-essential shops can reopen.
He said Covid-status certificates would not be required next week but indicated no decisions had been made on their use in the long term.
“On Monday the 12th, shops are going to be open, outdoor pub beer gardens, outdoor restaurants and so on, you don’t need any kind of certificate to go then. You won’t need anything on May 17 when we open up indoor hospitality restaurants, indoor pubs, no question of needing anything,” he said on Tuesday.
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MPs in the ruling Conservative Party object to the idea that proof of Covid status could be needed to enter a pub or restaurant, arguing that such a system risks creating a two-tier society.
If a vaccine passport scheme were to go ahead, it would require cross-party support, given the number of Conservative MPs already opposed to the plan.
The opposition Labour Party said the government’s mixed messages had caused confusion.
“I do think it is discriminatory to say to somebody here in Leicester that you cannot go into Next or H&M unless you produce your vaccination status on an app, unless you produce that digital ID card,” shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Sky News.
“I don’t think that is fair. Now, if ministers are saying that is not what the policy is then they have to explain why does the policy document they produced last night permit that scenario?”
The prime minister said he expects vaccine passports to have a role in international travel, but that there were ethical questions about a certification scheme that only took vaccination status into account.
Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said any such initiative would be designed not to be discriminatory.
He said no decision had yet been taken, and that MPs would have a vote on any plan.
Asked about international travel, Mr Johnson said he was hopeful it could restart in May, but the government would have to be realistic.
“We can’t do it immediately. But that doesn’t mean that we’ve given up on May 17,” he said.
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic expect international travel from Britain to resume on May 17 despite the government issuing a warning it is too soon to say whether holidays abroad can go ahead this year.
“We see nothing in the data that suggests that we shouldn’t be opening up travel on the 17th of May,” British Airways chief executive Sean Doyle said.