Rob MerrickThu, 25 March 2021, 6:48 pm
Amid a growing outcry, the prime minister sought to reassure Tory MPs and the industry that no decisions had been taken, but stuck to his backing for “vaccine certificates”.
“You might only be able to implement a thorough-going vaccination passport scheme – even if you wanted such a thing – in the context of when absolutely everybody had been offered a vaccine,” he said.
Pub organisations have reacted with horror to the idea that they would be left to decide whether to let in only customers who have been vaccinated against coronavirus.
Trade bodies suggested the idea was “simply unworkable”, while the boss of the Shepherd Neame chain called making jabs mandatory a “fairly poorly thought out idea”.
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No 10 mounted a hasty rescue job, briefing that the plan would have to allow entry – including to other venues, such as restaurants and cinemas – after a negative Covid-19 test, as well as vaccination.
But Mr Johnson made no specific mention of testing, telling broadcasters: “I do think there is going to be a role for certification.
“What we said is we’ll be reporting on the work of the certification group in early April, either on 5 April or 12 April.
“There are lots of difficult issues because there are some people who for medical reasons can’t get a vaccination, pregnant women can’t get a vaccination at the moment, you’ve got to be careful about how you do this.”
Mr Johnson, visiting a nursery in London, also denied telling Conservative MPs that the UK’s successful vaccination programme was because of capitalism and “greed, my friends”.
“That’s obviously not what I said,” the prime minister claimed – despite multiple MPs reporting that he did – but he stressed the part played by the businesses in delivering the project.
The government had played a role, but it was “also thanks to free enterprise and big companies deciding to take a risk to put their investment into bets that they didn’t know would pay off”.
Mr Johnson said that “what capitalism is basically all about, and producing a life-changing result”, adding: “So it’s the combination that matters.”
It is thought that the review into certification could back allowing pubs to scrap social distancing rules – if they agree to check for jabs, or negative tests, on entry.
Pubs that did not want to go through that cost and effort would be allowed to open, but with the restrictions imposed last summer.
But Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said: “It’s crucial that visiting the pub and other parts of hospitality should not be subject to mandatory vaccination certification.”
And Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said: “Our sector has already gone to extraordinary lengths to prepare for reopening and we do not believe a requirement for pubs to check whether someone has had the vaccine would be appropriate or necessary.”
Mr Johnson also insisted the UK is “on the side of openness” in trade in vaccines, as European Union leaders met to consider tougher export rules.
“I don’t want to see blockades of vaccines or of medicines,” he said – even as Matt Hancock confirmed the UK demanded an “exclusivity” deal that prevented AstraZeneca sharing UK-made jabs with the EU.