Two white men wearing dark jackets drink beer outdoors at a pub in London.

COVID-19

A trip to a British pub may require a COVID-19 passport  

England’s potential COVID-19 certificate scheme would require customers to show proof of vaccination, a negative COVID-19 test or immunity status to gain entry into shops, pubs and theaters.

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People drink beer at tables set up outside a pub in Soho, London, on the day some of England's COVID-19 lockdown restrictions were eased by the British government, April 12, 2021. 

Credit:

Alberto Pezzali/AP

Starting Monday, beer gardens and nonessential shops in England can reopen after months under lockdown. 

Related: Swimmers relish their first dip in Britain's outdoor 'lidos' as lockdown lifts 

A rotund white man with gray hair smiles and poses for a photo wearing a blue shirt outside one of his pubs, The Merry Monk.

Christian Burns stands outside one of his pubs, The Merry Monk. 

Credit:

Orla Barry/The World 

English pub owner Christian Burns is worried about reopening his bars after being shuttered for months.

Christian Burns, chief executive officer of Bishop Auckland Brewery and Pub Company in northeast England, wonders if customers will even bother going to the pub if it means sitting outside in near-freezing temperatures.

But Britain’s spring weather isn’t the only challenge facing pub landlords. 

The UK government is reviewing a COVID-19 certificate scheme that could be introduced in public venues like shops, pubs and theaters. The scheme is being trialed at large sporting events including football finals and the World Snooker Championship this month, but it has attracted broad criticism. 

In Britain, the majority of those who have received the jab are over 50, and pub owners like Christian Burns say the measure is unfair for younger customers.

 

“I think it's discriminatory because a lot of my target audience are under 40. And those guys are not going to be able to have that COVID[-19] certificate because they won't have been jabbed. So, are you saying that only people over 50 are going to have that certificate to get in your bar?”

Christian Burns, chief executive officer, Bishop Auckland Brewery and Pub Company, England

“I think it's discriminatory because a lot of my target audience are under 40. And those guys are not going to be able to have that COVID[-19] certificate because they won't have been jabbed. So, are you saying that only people over 50 are going to have that certificate to get in your bar?”

Unlike many business owners, Christian Burns isn’t opposed to some testing measures. He says he would be happy to conduct COVID-19 tests on customers himself, if necessary. But he says if rigorous testing is in place, then social distancing should no longer be required in bars. 

Other pub owners in Britain have resolutely opposed the certificates. 

Related: Sex workers in Europe struggle to survive as clubs slowly reopen

Tim Wetherspoon, who runs the UK’s largest pub chain, Wetherspoons, said he has “no faith in this sort of trade-off or in any initiatives dreamed up on a daily or weekly basis, by a small group of ministers.”

Festivals and large theater shows are also being considered for the scheme. 

A white woman with dark black hair wearing all black clothing poses seated in a chair at a theater, smiling to the camera with her arms on her lap.

Nica Burns poses for a photo at the theater. 

Credit:

Courtesy of Nica Burns/Photo by Justin Griffiths Williams

Theater producer Nica Burns runs six theaters in London’s West End with her business partner, Max Weitzenhoffer, and their company, Nimax Theaters. Her shows opened for just one week last year as England’s lockdown measures were particularly strict on live stage events. The plan is to reopen in mid-May with social distancing in place. But Nica Burns says she would accept whatever government guidelines are required if it means being able to play to full houses again.

Related: In France, artists occupy theaters with a strong message: 'Reopen culture' 

“Whatever system the government decides on to enable theaters to get back up to 100% capacity, we will implement at venues as we need to get the industry up and running again."

Nica Burns, theater producer, Nimax Theaters, England

“Whatever system the government decides on to enable theaters to get back up to 100% capacity, we will implement at venues as we need to get the industry up and running again,” Nica Burns said. 

The theater producer says staging shows with audiences sitting 6 feet or more apart just doesn’t work economically. She believes the COVID-19 certificate scheme could work because those who haven’t been vaccinated still have an option to present a negative COVID-19 test result or show they have immunity through previous infection. 

Related: Is it curtains for London's West End? 

Like pub landlord Christian Burns, Nica Burns (no relation) says she’s prepared to test theatergoers on the door herself. Demand for theater tickets is high, even though it’s still five weeks before English theaters can officially reopen, the producer says. Nica Burns doesn't believe that a new testing regime will be a turnoff to potential theatergoers. 

Ten of Britain’s leading sports bodies have also expressed support for domestic COVID-19 passports. 

The Premier League and Football Association are among those who have written to Prime Minister Boris Johson and other political leaders in the UK, saying certification would help remove the need for social distancing in stadiums. 

“All of our sports can see the benefit that a COVID-19 certification process offers in getting more fans safely back to their sport as quickly as possible,” the letter says.  

UK retail stores are less enthusiastic. The British Retail Consortium (BRC), which represents thousands of shops, rejected the idea, saying that checking documents at the door would not work

Opposition politicians and some conservative lawmakers are also reticent. Jonathan Ashworth, health secretary with the opposition Labour party, has called the certificates “discriminatory.” 

Conservative Member of Parliament Sir Desmond Swayne accused his party of backtracking on an earlier promise not to introduce the rules, saying the scheme would lead the way “to total social control.” 

Civil Liberty groups like Big Brother Watch are also opposed. Legal and policy officer Mark Johnson says the certificates “runs contrary to a long-standing tradition in the UK of not having to carry any kind of ID cards.”

Mark Johnson worries that the scheme could be a slippery slope to further health checks.

“There's nothing more private than your own health. This idea that you'd have to disclose your health, just to access society is overbearing and could lead to other kinds of health IDs in the future,” Mark Johnson said. 

The UK’s vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, admitted recently that COVID-19 certification raises ethical issues but said it would be remiss of the government not to consider it as a way of fully reopening the economy. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the matter is still under review and no decision will be made until June at the earliest.

Recent opinion polls show the British public is largely in favor of some kind of vaccine passport, particularly after all adults in the UK have been offered the jab. But with over 40 Conservative members of Parliament voicing their objection and opposition lawmakers largely against the plan, the prime minister faces an uphill battle to see the scheme introduced.

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