Covid passports not the answer to lockdown exit, say MPs

The Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee said any plans for Covid-status certification should be scrapped.

The NHS app
The NHS app

Covid passports would “disproportionately discriminate” based on race, religion, age and socio-economic background, a cross-party group of MPs has said, while ministers agreeing to the system internationally could be construed as being in contempt of Parliament.

The Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) said the certification, which could show whether people had tested negative for coronavirus or had the vaccine to allow them access to certain events and venues, should not be a part of the planned rolling back of restrictions on June 21 and should be scrapped.

A report from the committee released on Saturday said even though it was clear the scheme had been under consideration “for at least six months… the conflicting and sometimes contradictory statements made by ministers on the possibility of introducing certificates has risked damaging trust in Government and in the measures put in place to tackle the pandemic”.

The report said the implementation would “by its very nature be discriminatory” and the MPs found “no justification for introducing a Covid-status certification system that would be sufficient to counter what is likely to be a significant infringement of individual rights”.

And it said that while the PACAC and the Government-reviewed proposals, “the Government decided to pre-empt the findings of both and launched a Covid-status certificate for international travel, without notifying or consulting Parliament”.

The report said “this could be construed as contempt of Parliament and this committee”.

Internationally, health ministers from G7 countries last week agreed on the need to work together to develop “mutual recognition of testing and vaccination certificates across countries”.

Domestically, a review into the potential use of the certification had been due to report last month, but was delayed and is now expected as part of the announcement on step four of the restrictions lifting on Monday.

MPs said, even if they were put into use, they were targeted at mass events such as football matches which are out in the open and therefore of lower risk of the transmission of Covid, rather than indoor smaller, enclosed spaces.

And they said that there were “legitimate concerns over the serious data protection risks that would be involved”.

MP portraits
Chairman of PACAC William Wragg (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament)

William Wragg MP, chairman of the PACAC said: “We recognise the need to formulate an effective lockdown exit, but Covid passports are not the answer.

“We are entirely unconvinced by the case for their introduction.

“Although it is a tool that is being sold as and built with the intention of being for the universal good, it has the potential to cause great damage socially and economically.

“As vaccine uptake statistics indicate, any Covid certification system will be a discriminator along the lines of race, religion and age.

“Finally, the success of the vaccine rollout and their efficacy calls into question the value of a certification regime.

“It would be established at great cost for rapidly diminishing returns.

“Frankly, the Government needs to scrap any idea of introducing Covid passports.

“They are unnecessary and there is no justification for them in the science and none in logic.”

Cabinet office minister, Michael Gove, who is leading the review previously said the benefits of a vaccine passports scheme were “finely balanced”.

Mr Gove has visited Israel as part of the process to assess the effectiveness of a similar “green pass” scheme deployed in the Middle East country.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said if such a scheme proved too costly or too much “hassle” for the hospitality industry, then the Government would not pursue it.

The NHS app has already been altered to allow users to prove their vaccine status and Mr Gove said further changes were in the pipeline so test results could be declared as well.

A Government spokesman said a review of the evidence around Covid certification was still ongoing.

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