Leaked government report warns that COVID passports could drive up infections


October 26, 2021

A leaked government report has warned that there is a risk that the introduction of COVID-19 vaccine passports for certain clubs and venues in England could actually increase the spread of the coronavirus. That’s because an unintended consequence might be that people avoiding places where a vaccine passport is required to gain entry instead go to pubs and bars with fewer measures in place to combat the spread of the disease, it says.

Currently clubs and some venues in Scotland and Wales are obliged to check the vaccine status of customers before granting admission. In Wales, those who have not been vaccinated can use a recent negative COVID test to gain entry instead. But the UK government abandoned plans to force the checking of vaccine passports at clubs and venues in England, instead leaving it to individual businesses to decide whether to instigate such checks.

Ministers are still considering making the checking of vaccine passports mandatory in England as part of ‘Plan B’ proposals for counteracting the spread of the virus over the winter months. This would mean that people would have to prove that they were fully vaccinated before attending certain venues and events, including indoor venues with 500 or more attendees, outdoor events with more than 4000, and all nightclubs.

However, the government’s own impact study, revealed by The Telegraph, warns: “There is potential displacement between live events venues and hospitality venues. A core concern in the sector is that certification could displace activity and business away from music venues to, say, pubs with music and late alcohol licences, etc, which could be counterintuitive and potentially counter-productive”.

“Similarly, if certification displaces some fans from structured and well ventilated sports stadia, this could lead to them attending unstructured and poorly ventilated pubs instead, where they will have access to more alcohol than if there were in the stadia”, it goes on. “Evidence from the Euros showed spikes in cases associated with pubs even when England were playing abroad”.

Another concern is the feasibility for venues of actually implementing a system to check the vaccine status of all attendees. The report states that the Royal Albert Hall would incur extra costs of £1050 per show, due to the need to hire extra staff to check passes. For stadiums with capacities of 10,000 or more, as many as 5,700 extra staff would need to be hired, with checks taking up to two minutes per person.

The document does, however, suggest that mandatory vaccine passport checks could have positive commercial effects too, particularly in motivating the return to live entertainment of those who are still staying away from venues due to fears of contracting COVID-19.

“Although the impact would not be positive for all consumer segments”, it says, “overall the evidence indicates that vaccine proof would be a trigger for tempting many from the more cautious segments to return to indoor attractions and there is also growing support among those who have already returned to visiting – now outweighing those who would be alienated”.

In a statement to the Telegraph, a spokesperson for the government’s Department For Digital Culture, Media And Sport defended the proposals for implementing vaccine passports as part of any Plan B measures that may nor may not be required in the months ahead.

“There is good evidence to suggest certification would have a beneficial impact on infection rates and it would also avoid the need for capacity caps or closures”, they said. “There is currently no evidence to suggest that businesses have been impacted by lower attendance when certification is used, with various venues already using this on entry throughout the year”.

“Plan B is as published in the autumn and winter plan and this [leaked] document does not represent government policy”, they added. “We have been clear throughout that we would only implement Plan B if evidence suggested the NHS was going to come under unsustainable pressure”.

While it is far from certain that vaccine passports will be made mandatory in England, there remain concerns within the live industry that the measure could still be introduced at very short notice, and that doing so will create chaos and have a negative impact on revenues for businesses that have already suffered greatly through the pandemic.

The night-time sector remains critical of the COVID Passport scheme in Scotland, which technically went into force at the start of the month, although there was initially some flexibility, meaning this weekend just gone was the first time venues were obliged to turn away people without a valid vaccination certificate.

The Scottish Hospitality Group said that the full enforcement of vaccine passports this weekend meant that footfall was down 40%, while door staff were put under considerable pressure. It added: “The experience of this weekend shows that the result has been intolerable levels of abuse of our staff, and the creation of an atmosphere that will totally undermine anyone’s enjoyment of our night-time venues”.

Speaking on behalf of the UK live industry at large this morning, CEO of trade body LIVE, Greg Parmley, said the leaked report “confirms that a move to mandatory vaccine passports would be a mistake. These passports would cost the live music industry billions of pounds while aspects of the roll out would be impractical and potentially dangerous”.

“Our industry has been unjustifiably held to a higher standard than any other throughout the pandemic”, he went on. “Now the government’s own impact assessment makes it clear that far from reducing transmission rates, insisting on mandatory vaccine passports in venues is likely to do the exact opposite”.

“Across the country, music venues and events already have tried, tested and workable systems in place to ensure that live events continue to be safe”, he concluded. “As one of the hardest hit industries throughout the pandemic the government should be focused on supporting us to rebuild, not forcing these unworkable conditions upon us”.

The British government, of course, is hoping that it will not have to launch ‘Plan B’ and that its current policy of just pretending that the pandemic is over will keep infection rates down.

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