The hospitality sector has not leapt to welcome government plans for vaccine passports after confirmation on Sunday that passports will be required for nightclubs, mass events and large venues in England by the end of September.
Nadhim Zahawi, vaccines minister, told Sky: “The reason being is that, I, as does the prime minister, want to make sure the whole economy remains open. The worst thing we can do for those venues is to have a sort of open-shut-open-shut strategy because we see infection rates rise because of the close interaction of people, that’s how the virus spreads, if people are in close spaces in large numbers we see spikes appearing.
“The best thing to do then is to work with the industry to make sure that they can open safely and sustainably in the long term, and the best way to do that is to check vaccine status.”
Kate Nicholls, CEO of UKHospitality said: “A scheme introducing mandatory Covid passports for certain venues and events will be unworkable, cause conflict between staff and customers and will force business to deal with complex equality rules. Operators may even be forced into a position where they have to let unvaccinated staff go, at a time when there are record levels of staff shortages across the industry.
“The hospitality sector has invested heavily to ensure customers are safe and we have proved venues are Covid secure. Introducing a scheme such as this will be a hammer blow to businesses such as nightclubs that were closed by the Government for nearly 18 months, and have only recently been able to trade viably and make progress toward rebuilding and paying off accrued debts.
“Over the past year our sector has been devastated and businesses have only known forced closure or the most severe restrictions. This policy will be devastating for businesses that remain fragile and will certainly derail recovery and cost thousands of jobs.”
This was a volte face from previous comments about how no way there was going to be a vaccine passport, no way, no how. OK maybe a bit, but you choose. That time has now changed.
Kate makes a good point and one which was raised in France when Emmanuel Macron announced plans for the passe sanitaire, which requires anyone wanting to eat, drink, be merry - or use a long distance train - to display proof of vaccine status, or a recent test. Cue the popping up of instant passe sanitaire booths across France.
The hospitality unions objected, but an agreement was made that staff checked passes and not the attached ID and an app has been produced that does this very speedily, with no unsightly queues.
Zahawi’s justification is keeping things moving. Macron made no such comments when announcing the passe sanitaire; the motivation was all about encouraging vaccinations.
The UK’s vaccine programme has plateaued. Johnson and his chums would never admit to learning from the French, but is this move really about vaccines and not about the sector? If hospitality is going to be used in this way, it must at least have the chance to get what it wants in the deal. Time to think of some bargaining chips.