LONDON – Controversial plans to make COVID-19 vaccine passports a legal requirement to enter nightclubs or large music venues in England have been scrapped, U.K.’s health secretary says.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson first announced the proposals in July, and they were expected to come into force at the end of this month.
Under the scheme, anyone aged over 18 would have to be fully vaccinated or show proof of a negative lateral-flow test to gain entry to clubs and other crowded events. The government has not released details about how the scheme would be implemented, policed or what constituted a “large event.”
In a TV interview on Sunday on the BBC, Sajid Javid, the health secretary, said the passports were no longer needed because of high vaccination levels, testing and new treatments across England.
“We’ve looked at it properly and, whilst we should keep it in reserve as a potential option, I’m pleased to say that we will not be going ahead with plans for vaccine passports,” said Javid.
According to the latest data, nearly 44 million people in the U.K. have had both vaccine doses, equivalent to 81% of the adult population.
Javid said the government could reverse its decision if infection rates begin to rise dramatically.
Plans to institute vaccine passports have drawn fierce criticism from across the live music and entertainment sector, with U.K. trade body The Night Time Industries Association estimating they would result in a 30% fall in revenue across the sector.
The government U-turn comes a week after Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi defended the vaccine passport scheme as the “best way” to keep the nightlife industry open.
“It was an ill-thought-out policy and it’s very welcome news that it’s been cancelled,” Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association, tells Billboard. “We can now start to rebuild properly. We can start to plan financially and regain confidence in both the workforce and customers.”
Kill says that pre-pandemic there were just under 1,500 nightclubs in the U.K. Today, there are under 1,000. He’s calling for financial backing from the government to help support a beleaguered sector that’s “consistently been at the sharp end of this pandemic.”
The U.K. nightlife industry was worth £112 billion a year ($154.8 billion) pre-pandemic, making it the U.K.’s fifth biggest industry, according to The Night Time Industries Association, which represents bar, pub and restaurant owners, as well as nightclub and music venues.
U.K. trade body The Music Venue Trust also welcomed the news. The group says vaccine passports present challenges around “deliverability, practicality, equality and potential discrimination.”
“Our issue with double vaccination certification as a sole requirement of entry was that it was highly unlikely to achieve improved safety above and beyond those measures already in place,” says Mark Dayvd, CEO of Music Venue Trust. He encourages all music fans to take a “personal approach to risk mitigation” and take a COVID-19 test before attending a concert.
Although they are off the table in England, for now, other parts of the United Kingdom are still pressing ahead with plans to implement vaccine passports. Last week Scotland decided that starting on Oct. 1 people 18 and older will need to prove they are fully vaccinated before they can enter nightclubs and many large events.
The entry requirements apply to all Scottish nightclubs, as well as unseated live music concerts with an audience of more than 500 people. Vaccine passports will also be required for any unseated outdoor live concert in Scotland with more than 4,000 people and for all events (indoor and outdoor) with more than 10,000 attendees.
A QR code verification app — called the NHS Scotland Covid Check — will be made available to venues starting today (Sept. 13), enabling staff to check customers’ vaccine status. “Secure un-editable” paper versions of vaccine passports will be available for people unable or unwilling to use the app.
Dayvd opposes the plans saying they disproportionately penalize young people and are “liable to provoke confusion among both the public and venue operators.”
In Wales, the issue of vaccine passports will be debated by ministers in the coming days. There are currently no plans for their introduction in Northern Ireland.
Elsewhere in Europe, large-scale protests have broken out over the introduction of compulsory COVID-19 measures. In France, thousands of people have marched through cities and towns for nine consecutive weekends protesting COVID-19 health passes that require people to show proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter cafés, restaurants and cultural venues, including cinemas, nightclubs and concert halls.
Official figures say protesters numbered more than 120,000 people on Saturday (Sept. 11), with violent clashes in Paris resulting in 85 arrests. In early August, an estimated 237,000 protesters turned out across France.
On Sunday, the U.K. recorded 29,173 new cases of COVID-19, although the seven-day case average rose by only 1% compared to the week before. Over the past seven days, 971 people have died within 28 days of testing positive – an increase of 23% compared with the previous week, according to government data.