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Covid-19 status certification (also referred to as a “vaccine passport”) 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. [1]

Certification would evidence that a person has acquired some degree of immunity to the Covid-19 virus through prior infection or vaccination. Certification could also be provided when a person uses a recent negative test result to show that they do not have active infection.

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”.

As part of the review, led by the Cabinet Office, the Government considered evidence from academics, industry representatives and civil liberties groups.

In July 2021 the Government published the Covid-status certification review report. This 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 present 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 expressed concern about the continuing risk of transmission and announced that from September, full vaccination would be a condition of entry to nightclubs and other large capacity venues. [2]

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 presently 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.

Additionally, uncertainty remains about whether the proposed methods of certification can be delivered from an operational perspective.

These issues 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.

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 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
At present, there is no legal obligation for a business to require its staff or customers to show an NHS Covid Pass before entering their premises. The guidance on working safely during Covid-19 only recommends the use of the Pass for nightclubs and other large crowded settings where people will be in close proximity. The Government has indicated that it might legislate to make this a legal requirement towards the end of September 2021.

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 come into effect on 11 November 2021.

The NHS Covid Pass can be used during outbound and inbound travel.

A number of countries exempt fully vaccinated travellers from a requirement to quarantine on arrival. Some of these countries accept the NHS Covid Pass as evidence that a person is fully vaccinated.

From 19 July 2021, people arriving in the UK from amber list countries (except France) are no longer required to quarantine or test on Day 8 if they are fully vaccinated in the UK. The guidance on entering England says people can use the NHS Covid Pass to show their vaccination status.

[1] Cabinet Office, Covid-19 Response- Spring 2021 (Roadmap), 22 Feb 2021

[2] BBC News, Covid: Two jabs needed to enter nightclubs from September, 20 Jul 2021

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