Sajid Javid has announced the government has dropped plans for domestic vaccine passports for use in nightclubs and other crowded venues in a dramatic u-turn — just days after No 10 defended the proposals.
The health secretary revealed ministers “will not be going head with plans for vaccine passports” in what will be viewed as a concession to rebellious backbench Conservative MPs who have protested against the “discriminatory” plans.
His remarks come as Boris Johnson prepares to outline to the country how the government intends to manage the “challenges” presented by the pandemic in the autumn and winter months at a press conference this week.
“There’s a lot of defences we need to keep in place because this virus hasn’t gone anywhere — there’s still a pandemic,” Mr Javid told the BBC.
However, scrapping plans to introduce vaccine passports in England later this month for venues such as nightclubs, the cabinet minister said: “We just shouldn’t be doing things for the sake of it. It’s fair to say most people don’t instinctively like the idea.
“We were right to properly look at it, to look at the evidence,” he added.
“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.”
Just days ago, Downing Street defended the policy, however, saying the plans remained in place, with details due to be set out “in the coming weeks”.
And last Sunday, the vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi, said the passports would come into effect “by the end of September, when everyone has had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated, for the large venues that could end up causing a real spike in infections”.
Mr Javid’s comments also came just moments after he said in a separate interview the government wanted to “avoid” using domestic vaccine passports, insisting no final decision had been made.
“It has to be something that is absolutely, absolutely necessary with no alternatives,” he stressed on Sky News. “We have been looking at that, we’ve been open about that. Instinctively, I don’t like the idea at all of people having to present papers to do basic things.”
Reacting to the plans, the human rights group Liberty said: “This is a victory for everyone who has stood against the [government’s] discriminatory vaccine passport scheme. We’ll be watching what happens next and examining the details to make sure our rights are safe”.
Earlier this week, members of the Scottish Parliament, however, backed plans for vaccine passport scheme for nightclubs, major sporting and music events north of the border.
The result of 68-55 votes in favour, will mean that from 1 October, only people who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 will be allowed into clubs and large-scale events such as concerts and festivals.
On vaccinations for healthy 12 to 15-year-olds, Mr Javid also told Sky News: “We have been looking at that. I’m not in a position to make a final decision on it.
“I have received advice a week or so ago from the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation), our committee of experts, their advice was that I should ask the chief medical officers of the UK, the four chief officers in the UK to take a look at not just the health aspects of vaccination, but whether there were any broader reasons that it might be in the welfare of children, and that’s what I’ve done and they need to be given the time to look at this, and I will wait to see what they have to say.”
Asked when the chief medical officers will give their advice, Mr Javid said: “I’m not going to push them – they need to take their time. It’s independent advice, as it should be. They need to take their time.
“I don’t think they will be taking that much longer, but in the meantime I have asked the department to work with schools, the school vaccination teams, to start preparing, just in case we have a situation where their advice is to recommend it, and then if the government accepts that then I just want to be able to go ahead with it.”
Mr Javid said he will not “push” chief medical officers for their advice on vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds, but added he has asked for schools to start preparing.