Jim Pickard and Anna Gross – FT.com April 2, 2021
Pilot schemes for “coronavirus-free” mass events, which will include the trial of contentious “Covid passports”, will be held in the UK within weeks under plans being drawn up by ministers.
Some of the most high-profile sporting occasions, including the FA Cup semi-finals and final as well as the League Cup final in football and the World Snooker Championship are expected to take part, along with the music industry’s Brit Awards, according to the plans, first reported in the Daily Telegraph.
Attendees will have coronavirus tests before and after each event, under the proposals. Government sources also said that ministers were hoping at least some of the gatherings would trial the first use of digital Covid certificates that would provide proof someone has either had the vaccine, a recent clear test or has antibodies for the virus.
Even as planning to allow at least limited mass gatherings continued, prime minister Boris Johnson on Friday urged people not to socialise indoors with other households over the Easter weekend, even if everyone is vaccinated. This is the first weekend since restrictions were relaxed in England allowing more than two people to meet outdoors but the weather forecast for the long bank holiday weekend is for temperatures across the country to fall sharply.
The first trials of the so-called Covid passports are expected to take place this month with a full rollout of the certificates by the start of the summer, according to people familiar with the plans.
As part of the scheme, a “digital certification app” is expected to be hosted inside the existing NHS App that is used by patients to book appointments and order repeat prescriptions. It is separate to the NHS Test & Trace app which has been downloaded 20m times.
The new app would be able to scan coronavirus test and vaccination certification. It will also be able to confirm on request that an individual has evidence they are Covid-19 free.
The plans could be announced as early as Easter Monday, when Johnson is expected to give a televised update on the progress of easing restrictions in England as the country emerges from its third national lockdown.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has been leading a review into Covid passports looking at the legal and ethical issues around allowing premises such as pubs and restaurants to drop social distancing rules if they made them a requirement for entry.
Those plans have already led to a backlash from more than 70 MPs from across the political spectrum, including 41 Tory backbenchers, who warned the requirements for such as passport would erode civil liberties.
The intervention saw libertarian Tory MPs such as Steve Baker join forces with former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey in an unlikely coalition.
One Tory MP said the idea was “disgusting,” adding: “What happened to the party that opposed ID cards,” in a reference to a successful campaign to block plans to introduce a national identity card by the Labour government in the mid-2000s.
Netcompany, a Danish company, has been awarded a £3.1m contract in part to develop a Covid-19 certification scheme, according to publicly available records.
The IT and business consulting company has confirmed it is in discussions to build similar solutions for a number of other countries. The Danish government recently announced it had asked Netcompany to develop a coronavirus passport app that would allow access to venues such as bars, restaurants, sports events and art galleries.