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Boris Johnson Hints That Pubs Could Ask Drinkers for Proof of Vaccination

Individual businesses would decide their own policy, rather than being part of a unilateral “vaccine passport” scheme

A barman in a mask serves a whisky at a pub Jane Barlow/PA Images via Getty Images

Prime Minister Boris Johnson today, 24 March, told a group of senior MPs that COVID-19 vaccine certification — or vaccine “passports” — could be introduced for permitting entry to hospitality venues, but that their use and enforcement “may be” at the discretion of business owners.

After saying that “the basic concept of vaccine certification shouldn’t be totally alien to us” because COVID-19 could be a “particularly nasty disease,” and that it was “wholly responsible” for care home companies to require vaccination for their staff, he was asked whether a similar model could be introduced for those wishing to visit the pub. Johnson chose to defer responsibility on to business owners. He said: “I think that’s the kind of thing that may be up to individual publicans, maybe up to landlords.”

This tracks with comments made by vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi who said in mid-February that it will be up to businesses to decide how they administer any guidance on the connection between vaccination and admittance to venues.

The passing on of policing public health and safety measures has been a feature of restaurants’ and pubs’ new operational responsibilities over the course of the last 12 months. Right from the off, and before businesses were mandated to close, the health and safety not just of guests but of employees was at the individual discretion of those in charge of a single business, while those in charge of the country were not always willing to show that they wished to proactively protect workers and citizens alike.

Restaurant owners have often been ahead of the government in doing what they believed was right for their workers, by choosing to close; or their guests, by choosing to enforce the safety measures that the government introduced not as law but as guidance.

And so business owners once again face the prospect of reopening their venues after having been closed for the majority of the past year with a new, potentially quite volatile policing responsibility. “We don’t think operators should be responsible for checking the guests have been vaccinated or not [...] because the vaccine is not mandatory, it can create a scene which we very much want to avoid,” Normah’s Normah Abd Hamid told Eater last month.

When asked about the new responsibilities restaurant’s may be burden with on reopening, Darjeeling Express owner Asma Khan told Eater that she had no faith in the government in February. “They have shown almost sneering contempt for hospitality and feel we can be used to do the work they are so incompetent to do themselves. I’m not sure how much hospitality will be able to push back as for many the need to open will outweigh any additional administrative burdens that may be dumped on us.”

Elsewhere, Dan Morgenthau of Quality Chop House and the Woodhead Restaurant group said, simply: “Hospitality professionals are not public health professionals and I don’t think it’s right or fair for the burden of enforcement to fall upon them.”

The industry will, once more, have to wait and see.

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