Yesterday (19 July), in an extraordinary U-turn announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson just hours after clubs were allowed to open for the first time in 16 months, it was confirmed that from late September, once all adults have had the chance to receive two jabs, Covid vaccine certificates will be made mandatory in England.
This despite a recent review concluding there should be no legal requirements for their use.
During a Downing Street press conference, Johnson said: “I should serve notice now that by the end of September, when all over-18s will have had their chance to be double-jabbed, we are planning to make full vaccination the condition of entry to nightclubs and other venues where large crowds gather.”
Unlike recent pilot events, where attendees have been allowed to show either proof of vaccination or a negative test, people will have to prove they have been double-jabbed, amid concerns about vaccine uptake among young people.
According to the Prime Minister, approximately 35% of 18 to 30-year-olds are unvaccinated.
Coming on so-called 'Freedom Day' - the first time nightclubs have been able to open their doors since the start of the pandemic - the announcement has been described as 'devastating' for the night-time economy.
“This announcement comes as a hammer blow on a day when nightclubs, a sector that has been closed by the Government for 16 months, were finally given hope that they could start to trade viably and make progress toward rebuilding and paying off accrued debts," says Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality.
"Covid passports will be a costly burden that run the risk of creating flashpoints between staff and customers, as well as raising potential issues with equalities legislation and the handling of customer data.
"As recently as last week the Government asked us to work with them on a voluntary scheme, so this new policy is devastating and risks hitting these fragile businesses and derailing their recovery and costing thousands of jobs.”
Last month, The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee published a report that concluded the introduction of 'vaccine passports' would place fresh burdens on industries, such as hospitality, which have already suffered significantly as a result of Coronavirus measures.
It also stated that the introduction of a Covid-status certification system would have a negative impact on the UK’s cultural, social and economic interests.
In its official guidance for hospitality businesses published last week, ahead of 'Freedom Day', the Government encouraged all hospitality businesses to check vaccine and testing status as a condition of entry through the NHS Covid Pass.
However, earlier this month Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that vaccine passports would not be required.
Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association, has described the latest development as shambolic, and warned it will put nightclubs at a competitive disadvantage over other hospitality venues.
“So, ‘Freedom Day’ for nightclubs lasted around 17 hours then," he says.
"The announcement from the Prime Minister that Covid passports will be made mandatory for nightclubs in September comes after his Health Secretary said only one week ago that they would not be compulsory. What an absolute shambles.
“Leaving aside the fact that this is yet another chaotic U-turn that will leave night clubs who have been planning for reopening for months will now have to make more changes to the way they operate – this is still a bad idea. 80% of nightclubs have said they do not want to implement Covid passports, worrying about difficulties with enforcing the system and a reduction in spontaneous consumers, as well as being put at a competitive disadvantage with pubs and bars that aren’t subject to the same restrictions and yet provide similar environments.”
“The Government’s own report into vaccine passports found they were more trouble than they’re worth – so what could possibly explain the about turn, just as millions across the UK experience their first taste of a night out in a year and a half?”
Research published last week by Rekom UK (formerly The Deltic Group, which operates 43 bars and clubs across the UK) revealed that the vast majority of people aged 18-30 planned to return to late night leisure venues.
Some 94.3% of 18-30 year-olds intend to head back to nightclubs, with more than a fifth (20.7%) looking to return as soon as possible, and over half planning to return within a month of reopening.
Furthermore, three quarters of respondents said they would happily adhere to any Government guidelines and measures if this ensured the reopening of, and continued opening, of the night-time economy.
Peter Marks, CEO of REKOM UK, says the Government's decision to make 'vaccine passports' mandatory is disappointing.
"Nightclubs have the best air ventilation systems in hospitality, retail and most other settings - with air changes on average every five minutes," he says.
"Who else does that? We can sanitise and clean just like any other venue and there is no difference between a club and most pubs at midnight.
"It should be down to individual risk assessments in line with the specialist scientific advice we have received.
"We are no more than a political football.
"Mandatory Covid passports may make sense one day once the entire adult population has been offered vaccines, but does Government really think this threat will entice the ‘vaccine wary’ to take the vaccine? They will just stay later in the pubs and hold their parties in their houses.”