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UK abandons vaccine passports plans, health minister says

A sign for the Covid-19 testing center at London Luton Airport in Luton, UK.
A sign for the Covid-19 testing center at London Luton Airport in Luton, UK.Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

The UK will abandon plans to call for proof of vaccination to enter venues, and may soon drop mandatory testing for returning travelers as part of a further easing of coronavirus restrictions to be announced this week, even as cases surge.

“I’ve never liked the idea of saying to people, ‘You must show your papers’ or something to do what is just an everyday activity,” Health Minister Sajid Javid said in an interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show on Sunday.

“We’ve looked at it properly, and whilst we should keep it in reserve as a potential option, I’m pleased to say that we will not be going ahead with plans for vaccine passports.”

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Earlier, on Sky News, Javid said a final decision on vaccine passports was still pending.

Javid spoke ahead of steps expected to be announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday to manage Covid over the autumn and winter.

The U.K. removed many of its coronavirus restrictions in July, but that initial step toward normality has been marred by a surge in cases of the delta variant of the virus.

Still, Javid isn’t expecting any further lockdowns. “I think it will be irresponsible for any health minister around the world to take everything off the table, but I just don’t see how we get to another lockdown,” he said.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made similar comments on Sky, saying Scotland wasn’t in danger of another lockdown despite rising cases there.

The U.K. is on pace to start a vaccine booster program this month, Javid said.

The health chief is also keen to end the costly PCR tests needed by U.K. travelers returning from certain countries.

“I want to take that away as soon as I can, but it must be based on the public health’s advice,” he said. “We should only keep measures in place if they are absolutely totally necessary.”

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Javid said that Johnson will this week announce that some of the measures in the Coronavirus Act, which were by necessity emergency powers, will be dropped.

These include the power to shut down a business, to shut down education settings and to require certain restrictions around people who are infectious.

“A lot of these powers can go,” the health minister said. “But some of them are necessary to keep, such as requiring people to self-isolate if they test positive.”

The Times earlier reported that while Johnson may drop the need for proof of vaccination for entry to nightclubs, cinemas and sports grounds, companies that now require certification of vaccines will be able to continue doing so.

Javid said there was no deadline for the government to finalize plans for vaccinations in 12- to 15-year-olds. The U.K.’s four chief medical officers are considering the issue, he said.

On Times Radio, Javid said that schools have been preparing vaccination programs for if or when the green light is given. He said he was “confident” of a fast rollout.

U.K. coronavirus cases remain high, but with the vaccine program well advanced -- more than 80% of people over 16 are double-vaccinated -- hospitalizations and deaths have remained lower than in previous waves.

Fall and winter are typically times when illnesses like the coronavirus and flu are on the rise.

Javid said that the U.K. would be making a big push on flu shots, potentially paired with coronavirus boosters, to keep the country as healthy as possible.

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“Of course we’ll get Christmas,” he said.

(Recasts with Javid comments from BBC, Times Radio interviews.)

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