Covid: Pub vaccine passports 'risk social division'

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Forcing pub-goers to provide a vaccine certificate in a bid to encourage younger people to take a jab could be "counterproductive", a behavioural scientist has warned.

Prof Stephen Reicher, who advises the government, said the policy risked making vaccine hesitancy worse.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said this week a review was considering jab passports for places like pubs.

But the PM conceded there were "ethical problems that need to be addressed".

It came as Mr Johnson said England's roadmap for easing lockdown was still on course.

Prof Reicher, of the University of St Andrews, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme there was a lack of support for using vaccine passports to exclude people from social activities.

"People actually aren't averse to vaccine passports to be able to travel internationally," he said. "But when it comes to negative incentives - to, in effect, barring people from their everyday lives, from social activity, then actually they work in a very different way."

He added this could lead to "other problems like social division and social apartheid" and could "destroy any sense of community that has been so positive in the pandemic".

Early research into Israel's vaccine passport system, called the "green pass", found that while incentives may increase vaccination rates, "they may not be sufficient to overcome health concerns" among those who are hesitant.

And Prof Reicher pointed to data from countries like Israel and Germany that showed the suggestion of compulsory vaccines "does indeed put people off" taking a jab.

Meanwhile, Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi said drive-through vaccination sites were being considered to encourage younger people to have the jab.

He told the Daily Telegraph: "It's a great way as you do the under-50s, the under-40s, under-30s. Convenience becomes a much greater tool to deploy because you want to make sure for those people, where we think there may be greater hesitancy, we make it as convenient as we can make it."

At present, all over-50s, as well as health and social care workers and clinically vulnerable people, are eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine. Some 29.3m people have now received a first dose.

'Unworkable'

Mr Johnson said no decisions on vaccine passports had been made and the review of evidence would report in June, with an update next month.

He said previous coronavirus infections could be included if passports are adopted, with a government source suggesting a person's test results could also be reflected.

The prime minister said the concept "should not be totally alien to us" - pointing out that doctors already have to have hepatitis B jabs - although he stressed such a move in future "may be up to individual publicans".

But some pub landlords have criticised the suggestion, saying requiring customers to produce vaccine passports would be "unworkable".

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image captionPubs and restaurants are closed in England until 12 April, when outdoor service can resume

One industry body argued the proposals could breach equality rules. That is because some people are ineligible for a jab due to medical conditions or because they are pregnant, for example, and some will choose not to have one.

UKHospitality's chief executive Kate Nicholls said: "It is crucial that visiting the pub and other parts of hospitality should not be subject to mandatory vaccination certification. It is simply unworkable, would cause conflict between staff and customers and almost certainty result in breaches of equality rules."

The review into vaccine passports is taking place under the plans to ease England's lockdown, with the latest relaxation due on Monday when the "rule of six" returns for outdoor gatherings.

Outdoor hospitality returns from 12 April, and indoor hospitality can resume no earlier than 17 May in England.

Meanwhile, Wales has become the first UK nation to lift a domestic travel ban, allowing families to travel anywhere within its borders.

Mr Zahawi has said the over-70s could start receiving Covid booster jabs from September to ward off new virus variants.

Do you have any questions about the reopening of pubs and restaurants and what rules will be in place? Email haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk.

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