Vaccine passports could be introduced for sporting and business events, music venues and festivals in addition to nightclubs, a minister has suggested, but people will not have to prove their COVID status to access schools and universities.
Making a statement to MPs in the Commons, Nadhim Zahawi said those former events are the ones that ministers are “most concerned about” when it comes to the spread of COVID-19.
It comes after the government announced on Monday that providing proof of double vaccination will be required to enter nightclubs and other “crowded venues” from the end of September, with proof of a negative test not accepted.
The move has sparked a backlash, as well as raising questions about which other venues will be told to introduce vaccine passports.
Earlier this week, a minister did not explicitly rule out the prospect of the government requiring vaccine passports for people to go to pubs.
Mr Zahawi said MPs would get a vote if the government decides to “mandate the double vaccination requirement” for sporting and business events, music venues and festivals.
Ahead of that, ministers are encouraging “higher risk” settings to make use of the NHS COVID Pass.
As well as allowing someone to prove they have been fully vaccinated, this allows people to show evidence of a recent negative test or natural immunity after recovering from the virus.
Mr Zahawi told the Commons that the certificate of health status would be available via the NHS app, the NHS website or by asking for a written document.
Ministers are encouraging the use of it over the summer in an attempt to manage the risk of infections, while deciding where else to mandate vaccine passports in places other than nightclubs.
“This allows people safely and securely to demonstrate their COVID status, whether it is proof of vaccination status, test results, or natural immunity,” he said.
“People will also be able to demonstrate proof of a negative test result.
“Although we don’t encourage its use in essential settings like supermarkets, other businesses and organisations in England can adopt the pass as a means of entry where it is suitable for their venue or premises when they can see its potential to keep their clients or their customers safe.
“For proprietors of venues and events where large numbers are likely to gather and likely to mix with people from outside their households for prolonged periods, deploying the pass is the right thing to do.”
He added: “The pass has an important role to play in slowing the spread of the virus and so we reserve the right to mandate its use in the future.”
Pressed for more specifics on where vaccine passports could be introduced, Mr Zahawi told MPs: “Nightclubs and other crowded, unstructured indoor settings – such as nightclubs and music venues – or large unstructured outdoor events, such as business events and festivals, or very large structured events, such as business events, music and spectator sport events, they are the ones we are most concerned about.”
He said the government wanted to work the businesses ahead of the end of September while allowing all those over 18 to take up the offer of both jabs.
Mr Zahawi said it would be “hugely unfair” to implement the policy straight away and “giving people until the end of September is the right thing to do”.
He added: “There are no easy decisions to anything we have had to take with this virus.”
Later in the debate, Mr Zahawi confirmed that the NHS COVID pass would not apply to schools or universities, or “any public buildings” including Parliament.
Responding to the vaccines minister, Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth questioned the delay in introducing vaccine passports for nightclubs.
The shadow health secretary said: “Can he explain why he thinks it is safe to go clubbing till the early hours this Friday, but in September its only safe if everyone is double jabbed?”
“He has a proposal for nightclubs in September but what about school. A million children have been off school recently. Will he use the summer to install air filtration units in schools in time for September?”
Labour has confirmed it opposes the use of vaccine certification “for everyday access to venues and services”.
“We need to see the detail of what the government puts forward regarding vaccine passports,” a party spokesperson said on Wednesday.
“We oppose the use of COVID vaccination status for everyday access to venues and services. It’s costly, open to fraud and is impractical.
“Being double jabbed doesn’t prove you aren’t carrying the virus. Testing for access to venues would be more efficient, and would give people and businesses more certainty.”