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Vaccine passports would be ‘nightmare’ to put into law, UK expert warns

Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said they would need ‘enormous scrutiny’.

File photo of a person getting a Covid-19 vaccine
File photo of a person getting a Covid-19 vaccine
Image: PA Images

PUTTING VACCINE PASSPORTS into law would be a “nightmare” and require “enormous scrutiny”, an expert in the UK has warned.

Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, told Times Radio today that while in general they were a good thing if they made people feel a bit safer and more people were vaccinated, they needed “enormous scrutiny”.

He said: “I find it difficult to have the vaccine passport conversation, and I’ve had quite a lot of these discussions of policy advice level, without getting into the detail because who of us wouldn’t think that vaccine passports were in general, a good thing, if people felt a bit safer and more people were vaccinated and we had more assurance of that?

“And yet, one or two sentences into discussion you get rather sort of bogged down at the devil is in the detail, and there are an awful lot of confounders there where you could make some very, very poor legislation.”

Asked if vaccination passports will require new laws which could be difficult to word correctly, Altmann added: “I think the detail is an absolute nightmare and, without being pedantic or negative, requires enormous scrutiny.”

His comments come as shadow cabinet office minister Rachel Reeves said the Labour Party had “many reservations” about the use of vaccine passports in the UK.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We have an amazing take-up of the vaccine, it is being rolled out incredibly successfully by the NHS – it is not totally clear to me that we need a sledgehammer to crack a nut here.

“So we will see what the Government bring forward and their rationale for it – we’ll keep an open mind but at the moment we have many reservations around what the Government looks like it might be suggesting.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to chair a virtual meeting of the Covid committee before briefing the full Cabinet on the arrangements for the latest phase of lockdown lifting which will see non-essential shops in England reopen from 12 April.

He will then set out the details at a Downing Street news conference later today where he is expected to say more about plans for Covid certificates for mass gatherings from sporting events to nightclubs.

2.58876000 Source: PA Graphics

Health Minister Edward Argar denied that the government had changed its mind on the use of so-called vaccine passports with vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi previously calling them discriminatory.

Asked on BBC Breakfast whether the government had changed its mind, Argar said: “I don’t think it is that at all.

“I think it is right that we look at this and see if there is a way that, while balancing all of those practical, ethical and fairness considerations, is there a way this could, in the short term, speed up our reopening of the country and getting back to doing the things we love?”

‘Vaccine passports’

Under the UK government’s road map, pubs and restaurants will be able to start serving customers outdoors from next week while hairdressers, nail salons, gyms and libraries – as well as non-essential retail – will be able to reopen.

While there is relief among MPs at the prospect of the economy reopening, there is concern among some about the proposals for the “Covid status certification” scheme dubbed “vaccine passports”.

More than 40 Tory MPs have signed a cross-party letter opposing vaccine passports while Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has described them as “un-British”, raising the prospect of a potential Government defeat if – as expected – there is a Commons vote.

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Ministers insist the certificates – which could be a mobile phone app or a paper document – will never be required for essential services such as supermarkets, public transport or GP surgeries.

Initially, at least, they will also not be necessary to go to pubs or restaurants as they begin serving again.

The UK government is planning trials at a series of events over the coming weeks including the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield and culminating with the FA Cup final at Wembley on 15 May.

Initially they will not involve the use of certificates although spectators will be required to be tested for Covid-19 both before and after the event.

Johnson will also use the news conference – a year to the day after he was admitted to hospital with Covid-19 – to set out further details for easing foreign travel restrictions.

While the ban on foreign travel from England will not be lifted before 17 May, Downing Street has said that when the rules are relaxed there will be a risk-based “traffic light” system with red, amber and green ratings for countries around the world.

Travellers arriving from countries rated green will not be required to isolate although pre-departure and post-arrival tests will still be needed.

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