Speaking before the Parliamentary Liaison Committee yesterday (24 March), the Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs that pubs may be able to scrap social distancing and allow people to drink standing up and at the bar if they check customers' 'Covid-status certification' - commonly referred to as a 'vaccine passport' - on entry.
Asked whether 'Covid vaccine certification' could be required for pub-goers, he said he believed landlords should be able to set the criteria for entering their establishments.
Johnson said: “I think that that’s the kind of thing that may be up to individual publicans.
“I find myself in this long national conversation thinking very deeply about it and I think the public have been thinking very deeply about it.
“And my impression is that there is a huge wisdom in the public’s feeling about this and people instinctively recognise when something is dangerous and they can see that Covid is collectively a threat, and they want us as their government and me as the prime minister to take all the actions I can to protect them.”
The comments mark a change of thinking from Johnson, who has previously poured scorn on the idea of vaccine passports for hospitality venues.
Prominent voices from across the hospitality sector were quick to dismiss the Prime Minister's comments.
Entrepreneur Hugh Osmond, who is currently working with Greater Manchester's night time economy advisor Sacha Lord to challenge the Government's decision to not allow hospitality to reopen for indoor service until five weeks after nonessential retail unlocks, described the proposals as 'repressive and unethical'.
"I sincerely hope that the hospitality industry will unite in opposition against any proposal to require vaccine passports as a condition of entry to pubs or restaurants," he wrote on Twitter
"Discriminatory, repressive, unfair, and unethical."
UKHospitality has also warned against the use of a 'vaccine passport' scheme as a condition of removing restrictions.
The trade body cautions that a voluntary scheme would create confusion and inequality among businesses, customers and staff, and would act as a de-facto open ended delay to the reopening process.
It also opposes the introduction of a mandatory passport scheme that it says would be unworkable, cause conflict, and could be counter to equality rules.
“It is crucial that visiting the pub and other parts of hospitality should not be subject to mandatory vaccination certification," says Kate Nicholls, UKHospitality chief executive. "It is simply unworkable, would cause conflict between staff and customers and almost certainty result in breaches of equality rules.
“Even introduced on a voluntary basis, vaccine passports have the potential to cause huge amounts of confusion among businesses, customers and staff. It could potentially give rise to a two-tier system of viability among businesses and a situation in which young staff members, due to be vaccinated last, are able to work in a pub, but not able to visit it socially.
“There is a concern among businesses that the eventual rolling back of restrictions, vital to business survival, may be linked to the use of a 'vaccine passport' scheme. That cannot be allowed to happen. It would put businesses owners in a hugely invidious position and has the potential to effectively impose further unnecessary restrictions on businesses that cannot or will not operate a passport scheme."
Nicholls adds that a 'vaccine passport' system may be useful in opening up international travel more quickly, and might play a role at large-scale events in the near future, but it wouldn't be the liberating move for the wider hospitality sector that the Prime Minister believes it to be.
“Pubs and other hospitality businesses have spent a significant amount of time, energy and money ensuring their premises are safe and ready to welcome customers back in April and May.
"We need to throw off the shackles of Coronavirus in line with the Government’s roadmap; not impose more checks on our ability to socialise and do business.”
The Government is currently conducting a review into the potential use of so-called 'vaccine passports' to enter venues like hospitality.
Led by Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, the review is considering the ethical, equalities, privacy, legal and operational aspects of a possible certification scheme, and what limits, if any, should be placed on organisations using certification.