Covid-Status Certification Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The Government’s review and the purpose of Covid-status certification system

1.It is clear that the idea of certificates has been under consideration within government for at least six months. Ministers and officials have given conflicting statements on the possibility of certification being introduced as a measure, and on the extent to which proposals were actively under review. At times, these statements have been directly contradictory. At the very least, this demonstrates a lack of coordination and effective interworking between different departments and teams in the Government’s response to Covid. On at least two occasions, a Minister has said that certificates were actively being considered, only for the suggestion to be immediately denied by another Minister. Given that the review into the potential use of Covid-status certification was subsequently launched, this indicates either that several senior members of the Government were unaware of the Government’s policy direction in this area, or there was an effort to downplay to the public the seriousness with which the introduction of a Covid-status certification system was being considered. Either way, the Government’s approach to certification has risked damaging trust in government and in the measures put in place to tackle the pandemic. (Paragraph 7)

2.It is imperative that if a Covid-status certification system is to be introduced, the Government publishes the criteria against which the efficacy of that system is to be assessed, together with a clear statement and explanation of whether or not the Government believes that the system being deployed satisfies those criteria. (Paragraph 24)

3.It is also essential that a cost-benefit analysis is carried out and made public alongside any announcement regarding the introduction of a Covid-status certification. Such a cost-benefit analysis should include not only financial but also social and societal costs and benefits. (Paragraph 25)

4.It is highly regrettable that the Government has not, despite committing to do so, provided the Committee with likely financial costs to the public purse or to businesses and individuals of different models of Covid-status certification. Full costings must be provided alongside any announcement in regards to Covid-status certification. (Paragraph 26)

5.We recognise that conducting detailed modelling, especially with so many unknown variables and uncertainties, is difficult and imprecise. Nonetheless, we believe that it is the best guide to the potential impacts of the range of different scenarios that cannot necessarily be directly tested. We expect all such modelling to be published alongside any announcement. If such modelling has not been conducted, the Government should provide a clear explanation for why they have opted not to use modelling and what account they have taken of different scenarios in its absence. (Paragraph 27)

6.Given the large number of areas where the Government was unable to provide the Committee with information and answers in regards to: criteria against which the efficacy of that system is to be assessed; the cost-benefit analysis proposals; modelling of different scenarios with and without a certificate system, combined with the Minister’s own assessment that the case of a Covid-status certificate system is “finely balanced”, the Committee does not think the Government has made a case for any form of domestic Covid-status certification system. (Paragraph 28)

Concerns and uncertainty with Covid-status certifications

7.The Committee is very encouraged by the evidence we heard both from our expert witness and from the Government as regards vaccine efficacy. What the Committee also heard, however, was that there are significant areas of scientific uncertainty as regards to transmission, effectiveness of the vaccines, implications of new variants and accuracy of testing. The Government has so far failed to make the scientific case for the introduction of a Covid-status certification, in particular in light of the scientific uncertainties highlighted to the Committee. Given that, to date, 61% of the UK population has received at least one dose and 43% has received two doses of the vaccine and this is increasing by the day, there needs to be a clear and demonstrable benefit from the introduction of a Covid-status certification system. It appears to us that the success of the vaccination programme makes a Covid-status certification system unnecessary. The Government must clearly set out the scientific case for a Covid-status certification system alongside any announcement it makes introducing such a system. This is essential for the public understanding of the decision-making process behind such a system and to increase public acceptance of and compliance with vital measures to combat the pandemic. (Paragraph 45)

8.While the Government has not set out the locations, events and venues which would be included in a Covid-status certification system, it did provide some indications that certification might be used for venues such as nightclubs, large events like football matches and for international air travel, but would not be used for corporation buses or the Underground or in small business such as standard pubs and restaurants. It is clear from the evidence we heard that indoor locations which are densely-packed, noisy and poorly ventilated pose the highest risk of transmission, even after vaccination. However, this description could easily apply to some of those premises which the Government has indicated would be included in the scope of the Covid-status certification system and those which it does not envisage such a system applying to. This gives the impression that, if it were to introduce such a system, decisions would be made almost arbitrarily and would not be based on scientific or public health reasons. The Committee is concerned that it appears as if the Government has pre-empted the conclusions of its own review and made decisions on a largely arbitrary basis as to what locations will be included or exempted from the system, regardless of the scientific evidence. (Paragraph 46)

9.The Committee welcomes the Government’s commitment to publish the applicable thresholds for when Covid-status certificates may be required by particular locations, and believes that the thresholds for requiring certification should be published alongside the introduction of any such system so that a better understanding of the rationale and decision-making process can be ascertained. While we accept that new factors, such as the emergence and prevalence of a new variant, may mean that thresholds need to be changed, it would be better for this to be done publicly, accompanied with clear explanations, than for the Government to make the decisions in opaque ways. (Paragraph 47)

10.The hospitality, arts and sports sectors have been some of the hardest hit sectors of the UK economy and society. All three witnesses were very clear about the damaging effect of social distancing restrictions. As set out above, we have not seen a convincing scientific case for a Covid-status certification system, and we do not see how it would aid in the decision to remove and prevent the reimposition of social distancing requirements. It is clear that neither the hospitality nor the arts industry would institute a certification system unless it was imposed upon them as part of the transition towards a permanent end to social distancing restrictions. We are also not convinced that a Covid-status certification system would provide the fall-back protection that the Premier League suggest it could provide should social distancing measures remain in place. We are also not clear that a Covid-status certification system would provide any tangible increase in the public’s confidence in returning to pubs, restaurants, comedy clubs, theatres or sports stadia. It is however clear to the Committee that the introduction of a Covid-status certification system would place new burdens and costs on those industries which have already suffered significantly and continue to suffer as a result of the measures put in place to combat the pandemic. Given the Government’s assessment that the case for certificates is “finely balanced”, the lack of a clear scientific case and the extra burdens and costs that it would place on the businesses and people who it would affect directly, it would be detrimental to the UK’s cultural, social and economic interests for a certificate system to be introduced in any respect domestically. (Paragraph 55)

11.A Covid-status certification system would, by its very nature, be discriminatory. The evidence of vaccine uptake is a clear indication that such a system would likely disproportionately discriminate against people on the basis of race, religion and socio-economic background, as well as on the basis of age due to the sequencing of the vaccine rollout. While the Committee accepts that in emergency situations the prospect of temporary infringement of rights may need to be weighed against public health or other emergency considerations, these occasions should only ever be when there is an overwhelming case of necessity and should, in all situations, be proportionate to that necessity. In the case of Covid-status certificates, by the Minister’s own admission, the case is “finely balanced”. The Committee finds that there is no justification for engaging in what is likely to be a significant infringement of individual rights by introducing a Covid-status certification system and given the absence of convincing scientific case and the large the number of uncertainties that remain, we recommend that the Government abandon the idea of using a Covid-status certification system domestically. (Paragraph 64)

12.If the Government moves forward with any proposals to introduce such a system, despite the absence of a scientific case for doing so, a full Equalities Impact Assessment must be provided in good time and certainly in advance of any parliamentary vote on the legislation underpinning that system. (Paragraph 65)

13.We have strong concerns about the data protection risks that are involved in establishing a Covid-status certification system. Again, given that the Government have not established a clear scientific case, nor a good overriding public interest case, for the introduction of a Covid-status certification system, establishing the infrastructure necessary for such a system is an ineffective use of resources that cannot be justified. Furthermore, if a certificate system were introduced the Government would be introducing a system fraught with data protection and security risks. The Committee believes that the Data Protection Impact Assessment for any app hosting a Covid-status certificate should be published. (Paragraph 73)

14.While it may not be the Government’s intention for the potential introduction of Covid-status certificates to be a route to introducing ID cards into the UK, there are clear similarities and legitimate concerns that this could occur. Parliament should be aware of these concerns and take them into account when considering any potential Covid-status certification system proposed by the Government. (Paragraph 74)

15.The decision to launch the Covid-status certificate function on the NHS app for international travel, without notifying and consulting Parliament, could be construed as contempt for Parliament and this Committee. The policy should have been set out in advance of any decision being taken to enable scrutiny, and the House should have been given the opportunity to vote on the proposals. Furthermore, it remains to be seen whether the certificate that has already been launched will be universally or widely accepted by other countries in its current form. (Paragraph 78)

16.It is all the more unfortunate that the Government took the approach it did on this issue, as it appears to the Committee that demonstrating Covid-status may become a necessary feature of international travel in order to avoid excessive quarantine and testing requirements over the coming months and possibly years. The data protection concerns raised above still appertain to the use of the NHS app for this purpose and the Government should ensure that the very minimum necessary personal data is shared with foreign governments through the certificate. (Paragraph 79)

17.The introduction a Covid-status certification system would have a serious impact on businesses and individuals and has the possibility of infringing rights and being discriminatory in nature. In light of that, we believe that it would be inappropriate for a system with such a potentially wide adverse impact to be introduced by secondary legislation. Using secondary legislation would not only not fit with the constitutional significance of the legislation but importantly it would deprive Parliament the opportunity to make amendments. Given that the Government has not made the scientific case for a Covid-status certification system, and in its own assessment the case is “finely balanced”, the introduction of such a system must be by way of primary legislation. This would allow for the full implications and ramifications of the proposals to be fully and properly considered by the Government and would also allow Parliament the appropriate amount of time to consider, scrutinise and where necessary amend the Government’s proposals. (Paragraph 83)

Published: 12 June 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement