What did the PM say on testing, travel and vaccine passports?

Patrick Daly
·5-min read

Watch: PM warns against complacency as England prepares for next step out of lockdown

Boris Johnson led a coronavirus press conference on Monday about further plans for easing the lockdown.

Here is what the Prime Minister said on testing, vaccine passports and opening up society.

– Where have all these headlines about twice-weekly testing come from?

It would appear the Prime Minister is pinning his hopes on mass testing to help boost confidence and encourage people to check whether they have Covid-19 before venturing to the shops or the pubs.

With Mr Johnson confirming that non-essential retail, gyms, hairdressers and libraries will open from April 12 and pubs and restaurants will also be allowed to serve customers outdoors from next week, ministers have promised to supply everyone in England with two quick-result lateral flow tests each week in a bid to cut the chain of transmission as lockdown eases.

The lateral flow tests, which are being widely used in schools, can provide results in as little as 30 minutes, with the two-tests-per-week available from April 9.

Mr Johnson called for people to follow his lead in getting into the habit of taking tests regularly.

He told Monday’s Downing Street press briefing: “I do a lateral flow test before I go out on a visit to test whether or not I might conceivably be infectious – I think it is a sensible thing to do.

“The NHS is now offering, as I say, these free tests and I think people should use them.”

– How much is this testing going to cost?

Health minister Edward Argar would not put a precise figure on it on Monday, but said the cost would be covered by the two-year £37 billion NHS Test and Trace budget.

Watch: What is the UK's future on testing, travel and vaccine passports?

– Is this testing rollout instead of using vaccine passports?

It appears the two could potentially work in tandem, although Mr Johnson declined to confirm whether vaccine passports were set to become a reality.

The Prime Minister said his administration was “some way off finalising any plans for Covid certification in the UK” and stressed the priority was to vaccinate the population.

– What’s the status on vaccine passports then?

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has been leading the vaccine passport taskforce review and, although it is not expected to be finalised until the summer, the Government published an update on the scope of the work on Monday.

Certificates could potentially be used to show an individual has received the vaccine, has recently tested negative for the virus, or has “natural immunity”, having tested positive in the previous six months, according to a No 10 paper on the work of the lockdown taskforces.

The eight-page report said Covid status certification “is likely to become a feature of our lives until the threat from the pandemic recedes” and that it would be an “unjustified intrusion” for the Government to look to ban businesses from demanding it as a prerequisite for entry to their properties.

Government minister Mr Argar said his colleague Mr Gove was looking at whether the country should follow Israel’s lead in giving greater freedoms to those who have been vaccinated.

Asked about vaccine passports, he told the BBC: “I don’t think anyone would wish to do it but I think it is right that it is looked at as: ‘Can this help us go a little bit faster and get our country back to normal?'”

– Will vaccine passports definitely happen?

Even if the Prime Minister does sign-off on the idea, there is enough disgruntlement to suggest a vote in the House of Commons on their use could result in a Government defeat.

Senior Labour shadow cabinet member Rachel Reeves said her party had “many reservations” about their domestic deployment, while more than 40 Tory MPs have signed a cross-party letter opposing vaccine passports, meaning it could be a tight result.

– Aren’t mass events going ahead without needing to show proof of a vaccine?

Yes, the Government has announced pilots to test the use of Covid certificates for mass gatherings from sporting events to nightclubs.

Spectators at events over the coming weeks, such as the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield and the FA Cup final at Wembley on May 15, will be required to be tested for Covid-19 both before and after the event.

The FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium will be one of the test events for using 'Covid certification'
The FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium will be one of the test events for using ‘Covid certification’ (Catherine Ivill/PA)

They will not, however, have to show proof of a vaccine for now.

Ministers insist Covid status certificates – which could be a mobile phone app or a paper document – will never be required for essential services such as supermarkets, public transport or GP surgeries but could be useful for managing the risks at music festivals, sporting matches and nightclubs.

– What about for foreign travel – will I need to have had the vaccine to go abroad?

The Prime Minister has previously indicated that vaccine proof will be likely for those wanting to travel internationally.

But, in a sign that foreign holidays could be off the cards this summer, Mr Johnson said the UK must be “realistic” over the resumption of foreign holidays due to “a surge” of coronavirus in popular destinations.

The initial findings of the global travel taskforce review published on Monday said it was too early to say whether holidays abroad could be permitted from May 17, with international holidays currently banned during the lockdown.

Downing Street has confirmed that when the rules are relaxed there will be a risk-based “traffic light” system with red, amber and green ratings for countries around the world.

Travellers arriving from countries rated green will not be required to isolate although pre-departure and post-arrival tests will still be needed.

For those classed as amber or red, the restrictions will remain as they are with arrivals required to isolate or enter quarantine.

Officials have made clear that there will be no announcement this week on which country is on which list – a decision which has been criticised by tourism industry bosses.

Watch: How England will leave lockdown