I have been contacted by many constituents on the issue of vaccine passports. As such, I aim to provide a comprehensive response, which I hope will clarify my stance.
From the outset I must say that I am incredibly proud of the progress the UK is making in vaccinating the population and I am delighted that the Government reached, ahead of schedule, the goal of offering a vaccine to priority groups 1-9, by 15 April. This means that all adults over 50, the clinically vulnerable and health and social care workers have now been offered a lifesaving COVID-19 vaccine. The Government remains on track to offer first doses of the vaccine to all adults by the end of July.
A range of options are being considered to encourage people to receive the vaccine. As set out in the Government’s Roadmap towards easing restrictions, four programmes of work have been established to consider different aspects of how the UK should handle COVID-19 from summer onwards. One of these is a review into whether COVID-status certification could play a role in reopening our economy, reducing restrictions on social contact, and improving safety. On 5 April, an update was published into the reviews outlined in the roadmap, including the COVID-Status Certification Review.
This update acknowledged that, even without Government intervention, COVID-status certification is likely to become a feature of our lives until the threat from the pandemic recedes. I discussed the possibility of this, directly with the Prime Minister during a recent Liaison Committee meeting.
Other countries are already developing their own certification systems, such as the “Green Pass” in Israel and the “digital green certificate” in the European Union. While the review is ongoing, I firmly welcome that the Government has guaranteed to ensure appropriate Parliamentary scrutiny, presenting interim findings in Parliament during this month.
Although I am supportive, I am, of course, aware that COVID-status certificates raise complex ethical and discriminatory issues that need to be worked through. This is something I know the Government and the Prime Minister are conscious of and I welcome the fact that the Government is considering these issues fully as part of the review. I understand that the review has so far gathered evidence from clinical and ethical experts, as well as businesses and their representative organisations; in addition, the public call for evidence has generated over 50,000 responses representing a wide range of opinions.
It is right that we rule out no options at this stage. Conclusions and the outcome of the review will be set out in advance of Step four of the roadmap. However, I have expressed my concerns that the roadmap could slip beyond the end of June, which would have a large impact on the UK summer economy and resumption of international travel.
To this end, you may be aware that I am the Chairman of the Transport Select Committee (TSC). The Committee’s report into The safe return of international travel?’ (parliament.uk) was published this morning. One of the recommendations put forward by our Committee was to:
“act immediately to reduce waiting times and queues at the UK border, including working bilaterally with partner countries to agree mutual recognition of travel health certification, deploying more staff at the border, processing passenger locator forms before passengers arrive in the UK and establishing an efficient system based on a single digital app to process health certification submitted in a range of languages.”
I can appreciate that not everyone will agree with my stance on this matter. However, as outlined above, there is an inevitability that some form of COVID-Status Certification will be required. As such, it is only right that the Government is prepared, should that be the case