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Covid-19 status certification involves the use of testing, infection or vaccination information to demonstrate, in different settings, that a person has a lower risk of transmitting the Covid-19 virus to others.

Certification would evidence that a person has acquired some degree of immunity to the Covid-19 virus through prior infection or vaccination. A person could also demonstrate that they are less likely to have an active infection by producing a negative test result.

As with other aspects of Covid-19, the scientific evidence with regard to certification is far from complete. Uncertainty remains about the extent and duration of immunity provided by natural infection or vaccination, and the extent to which these reduce the rate of transmission. It therefore remains unclear whether certification, as proposed, would be a reliable and consistent indicator of a person’s Covid-19 status or (in)ability to transmit the Covid-19 virus to others.

Additional uncertainty remains about whether the proposed methods of certification can be delivered from an operational perspective. These issues have been considered in reports published by scientific institutions, such as the Ada Lovelace Institute and the Royal Society. Similarly, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has set out its own standards for a certification system in a June 2021 report.

This paper discusses a range of issues relating to the implementation and use of certification in England.

Domestic use

In its Spring 2021 roadmap, the Government committed to reviewing “whether Covid-status certification could play a role in reopening our economy, reducing restrictions on social contact and improving safety”.

The subsequent Covid-status certification review report, published in July 2021, set out that the Government would not mandate the domestic use of certification as a condition of entry for visitors to any setting at the time. However, the report raised the possibility of “keeping events going and businesses open if the country is facing a difficult situation in autumn or winter”. The report said that the Government would keep “the wider application of certification under consideration”.

The Government said that it would make the NHS Covid Pass available as a means for individuals to demonstrate their Covid status, and for organisations from Step 4 of England’s Covid-19 roadmap.

On the 19 July 2021 England entered Step 4 of the Covid-19 roadmap, at which point the majority of Covid-19 restrictions ended. Speaking at a press conference on the same day, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that from September, full vaccination would be a condition of entry to nightclubs and other large capacity venues. This proposal was subsequently dropped, although Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that it would be kept in reserve as a potential option.

On 14 September, the Government published its Covid-19 Response: Autumn and Winter Plan. Here, the Government encouraged businesses to make voluntary use of the NHS Covid Pass to help manage risk. Under ‘Plan B’ measures set out in the Plan, entry to some businesses and venues would be restricted to those who had been vaccinated (with some exceptions), otherwise called vaccination-only certification. The Government said that Plan B would be introduced only “if the data suggests that further measures are necessary to protect the NHS”.

The response to the proposed introduction of certification requirements for domestic purposes has been varied.

The Royal College of General Practitioners has said that it has no objection in principle to the use of certification but stressed the importance of detail on implementation. Some music and events industry stakeholders have supported the introduction of a temporary industry-wide certification scheme as a route to lifting capacity restrictions on venues.

Civil liberties groups have raised concerns about what they consider to be the unwarranted infringement of people’s privacy, whilst equality campaigners have highlighted the potential for discrimination against those unable, or unwilling, to provide certification. Business and industry stakeholders, particularly in the hospitality sector, have raised concerns about the need for a Covid-19 certification scheme and the costs and practicalities involved in implementing such a scheme.

Employment and equality

There is currently no general legal requirement for businesses to check a person’s Covid status (either vaccine, test or natural immunity) before providing them with work or services.

The Government’s guidance on working safely during Covid-19 recommends the use of the Pass for hospitality and event settings. Businesses may decide to require staff or customers to show their vaccination status using the NHS Covid Pass. If they decide to do so, businesses will need to ensure they are complying with employment and equality legislation. If an employer dismisses an employee who is not or cannot be vaccinated, it could face a claim for unfair dismissal or unlawful discrimination.

The Government has legislated to make vaccination a condition for working in a care home, with limited exceptions for people under the age of 18 and those who cannot be vaccinated for clinical reasons. These rules came into effect on 11 November 2021.

On 12 November 2021, the Government published a consultation report announcing that it will introduce regulations for health and care workers to be vaccinated. These regulations will mean that workers who have “direct, face to face contact with service users” will have to provide evidence they have been vaccinated, subject to limited exceptions. Subject to parliamentary passage, these regulations will come into force on 1 April 2022.


The NHS Covid Pass can be used to demonstrate Covid-19 status during international travel. By using the NHS Covid Pass to prove they are fully vaccinated, travellers can avoid having to quarantine after entering some countries, although some countries may also require a negative Covid-19 test result upon entry.

As of 1 November, the NHS Covid Pass is explicitly recognised by over 80 countries, according to NHSx. On 1 November, the Transport Secretary confirmed that agreement had been found been the UK and EU, so that the EU now formally recognises the NHS Covid Pass with immediate effect.

Travellers should check FCDO Travel Advice for specific countries’ restrictions.

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