The government’s latest u-turn has caused anger in an industry that has only just re-opened after 17 months of lockdown
A decision to introduce Covid passports for nightclubs and some other venues has caused anger in an industry that has been badly affected by the pandemic and which was only allowed to re-open on Monday for the first time in
But what exactly will the government’s latest u-turn mean for clubs, events and music venues?
What has the government said?
Boris Johnson said on Monday that, by the end of September, “when all over 18s have had their chance to be double jabbed we’re planning to make full vaccination the condition of entry to nightclubs and other venues where large crowds gather.”
The policy is a significant change from previous guidance. In its April roadmap review, the government talked about “Covid-status certification”. That wasn’t just about vaccination but about certifying how likely a person is to have Covid-19 and whether they have a “reduced risk of transmission”.
It meant that those who had had a recent negative test or had recovered from the virus and therefore had antibodies were deemed lower risk. From the end of September,
The announcement caused confusion, not least because it came just two weeks after vaccine passports were rejected as proof of entry to any venue. and prompted questions which ministers have so far declined to answer.
For example, what is the dividing line between venues that must use the passports and those which do not?; When does a medium-sized crow become a large one?
On Tuesday, business minister Paul Scully failed to rule out passports being required for pubs. Asked whether pubs might be included, he told Sky News ministers are “not saying crowded pubs at all” but went on to say that “we’re not ruling anything out”, before adding: “We’re saying nightclubs and also larger ticketed events as well.”
The Cabinet Office would not confirm which venues would need to enforce passports or comment on how it would ensure that the policy did not discriminate against particular groups.
Hours later, Mr Johnson’s official spokesman told reporters no decision had been made.
What will it mean for clubbers and ‘large crowds’ at events?
That is not entirely clear just yet. What we know is that proof of a recent negative test will no longer be enough to gain entry into some venues. The NHS app will show your vaccination status and be required for entry into those venues and events which the government decides are high risk.
Why have vaccine passports now been announced?
Explaining the reasoning behind the policy, the government’s chief scientific advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance, said nightclubs and other such venues could be “potential super spreading events”.
Others don’t agree with that explanation.
Hans Hess, who runs London’s Egg nightclub, said he believed the government had been spooked by the success of nightclubs when they re-opened on Sunday night.
“The whole media was focused on us. The government saw the big queues, the crowds and was taken aback. There was such a sense of occasion all across the country.”
He said the Egg would have to just “get on with it” but said the lack of clarity meant it was impossible to plan and that he believed many smaller venues may not fully comply with the rules.
“What do we actually have to do on the doors to adhere to these rules? We don’t know. It’s all just a grey area.”
Like many in the industry he called for a voluntary approach which would encourage people to get vaccinated.
A means of coercion?
Some critics think the government’s latest u-turn is really an attempt to coerce young people to get their vaccinations quickly. After a rapid start, the rate of the vaccine rollout has slowed dramatically.
Silkie Carlo of Big Brother Watch pointed out that the parliamentary committee tasked with looking at the viability of vaccine passports found that the scientific case for them had not been made.
Separately, the government’s ain scientific advisory panel, Sage, looked at care homes they said that they needed to have 80 per cent of staff vaccinated and 90 per cent of residents. The adult population is close to being at those levels now and many people already have natural immunity
“Vaccine passports are just normalising segregation. It is about shunning anyone who is not with the programme and coercing young people and hesitant groups,” Ms Carlo said. I am incensed.
She argued that “authoritarian” policies would further alienate those groups, rather than bringing them on board.
If nightclubs aren’t safe, why wait until the end of September?
Labour accused the government of making up policy as it went along.
“How can it be safe to go to nightclubs now, with no protective measures, if in September it will require double jab status? It makes no sense,” said Justin Madders, the shadow health minister
“This proposal is more confusion and incompetence from the heart of government at the expense of public health. They need to get a grip.”
It is far from clear that many of the people who are not yet vaccinated will have been by the end of September. The latest figures show around 3 million people aged 18 to 30-year-old have not yet had their first jab.
Assuming that the standard eight-week gap between first and second doses is maintained, that would mean they must all get their first dose in the next two weeks in order to be fully vaccinated in time.
For nightclubs, that age group accounts for a large chunk of their customers. The timeframe also means that. Then there are hundreds of thousands of people who cannot be jabbed. The Cabinet Office would not say whether those people would be exempt.
The government also has navigate a backbench revolt on the policy, which has angered some MPs who believe it goes against Conservative principles.
Beyond that, it could face a legal challenge on the grounds that vaccine passports are discriminatory, though that would take months to work through the courts.