Vaccine passport requirements ‘could trigger discrimination claims’

Tom Pilgrim, PA
·4-min read

The use of coronavirus “vaccine passports” to help businesses reopen post-lockdown could put venues at risk from possible claims for discrimination, a cinema association has warned.

Phil Clapp, chief executive of the UK Cinema Association (UKCA), said that requiring proof of receipt of a Covid-19 jab presented “a range of practical and legal problems”.

His comments came after the Prime Minister suggested that rapid testing will be used over vaccine passports to support businesses re-opening once lockdown restrictions ease.

But speaking on Monday, Boris Johnson did not not completely rule out using domestic immunity passports, saying the Government will “look at everything”.

Mr Clapp said he was not aware of any UKCA member considering vaccine passports or rapid testing as “a viable way forward”.

He told the PA news agency: “The use of vaccine passports in particular presents a range of practical and legal problems.

“At this moment in time, and in the medium term of course, the ongoing rollout of the vaccine makes this impractical, but even when that programme is complete, there will be a number of groups of who will not have been vaccinated for a range of legitimate reasons – some people with disabilities, pregnant women and young people amongst them.

“Making the proof of vaccination a condition of entry would open up cinemas (as it would other venues) to a host of possible claims for discrimination.”

Mr Clapp added that the £3-4 cost and result turnaround of rapid tests posed a “no less challenging” situation.

“Asking an audience of 250 each to take the test and wait 30 minutes before seeing a two-hour film seems impractical, as is asking customers to pay what equates in many instances to a 50% uplift on their cinema ticket,” he said.

Mr Clapp said cinemas had previously proved their ability to provide “rigorous safeguards”, adding that no Covid-19 case had been traced to a UK cinema site.

“With the same or similar measures in place as necessary, we look forward to welcoming people back to the big screen when allowed,” he added.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said she did not believe vaccine passports were “appropriate” for “a high street hospitality setting where we have already taken steps to mitigate risks”.

She said UKHospitality was keen to understand the Government’s plans for rapid testing which could form part of events and night-time economy businesses returning.

“We stand ready to work with Government to understand processes and protocols which could be developed so this can be one element of a risk-assessed approach to be applied on a voluntary basis where proportionate, pragmatic and necessary,” she added.

David Chadwick, chief executive of Verifiable Credentials Ltd, a company developing “vaccine certificate” technology, emphasised the importance of data privacy and the need for common standards to ensure compatibility between systems.

HEALTH Coronavirus Deaths
Deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK (PA Graphics)

He said at least 60 companies worldwide were looking at verifiable credential technology, adding: “It’s really important that if we do have Covid certificates that they follow some international standard.”

Mr Chadwick said his business was focused on technical details, adding that legal and ethical decisions should be taken by the Government and “recipients” of certificate data, for example leisure venues.

Verifiable Credentials Ltd has received government funding to provide cryptographic software to East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust for its issuing of vaccine certificates to its staff.

The company does not see people’s personal data as part of the trial.

It is also planning to trial its technology, using dummy data, with a theatre and cinema complex.

The initiative would explore whether customers could present their ticket alongside an NHS verified vaccine certificate to be scanned by a verifier app.

Certificates on someone’s smartphone could carry the type of vaccine a person has received and the validation signed by the NHS.

Mr Chadwick, also an emeritus professor of information systems security at the University of Kent, warned of the risk that “criminal gangs” could exploit testing and vaccine certificate systems.

“If whatever system they introduce is just paper based and allows forgery, gangs are going to be selling them for hundreds of pounds,” he said.

A vaccine is administered at the Odeon Cinema in Aylesbury (Jonathan Hordie/AP)
A vaccine is administered at the Odeon Cinema in Aylesbury (Jonathan Hordie/AP)

Mr Chadwick said vaccine and test certificates were an “equally valid” approach, as long as the NHS information available was enough to link them to a person while also preventing fraud.

He said the risk of relying on certificates could in part be on the recipient of the information, adding that the Government faced a “tricky” decision on how to potentially permit them.

“The recipient is the person who is risking everything, so if you are a cinema complex or you’re an overseas country and you’re allowing people to enter, you’re the one who’s taking the risk, you are the one that is allowing potentially the virus to spread,” he said.