Sajid Javid to abandon Covid Passports as the Omicron surge recedes

Sajid David

Covid Passports are to be abandoned within days after Sajid Javid effectively killed off the policy.

The health secretary has concluded that Covid-19 certification is no longer needed as the Omicron wave eases. He told MPs that he shared their “instinctive discomfort” at the policy.

With ministers keen to lift guidance on working from home when plan B measures are reviewed on January 26, it is increasingly likely that compulsory masks in enclosed spaces will be the only order remaining next month, if restrictions are not dropped entirely.

Javid told MPs yesterday there were “encouraging signs that infections” were falling in parts of the country and that the NHS was coping.

He acknowledged that hospitals remained under “significant pressure” and “we must proceed with caution”. It was, however, “encouraging that during this wave we have seen no increase in the number of Covid-19 intensive care patients and there are early signs that the rate of hospitalisation is starting to slow”.

As ministers become increasingly confident that the Omicron wave is passing, NHS bosses today will warn against “dangerous complacency” about the state of the health service.

Javid made the case last month for requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter large events and nightclubs in England as part of plan B measures when the Omicron surge began. Now it is understood that he will argue, when the measure is reviewed next week, that it is no longer needed and will claim that its justification is weakening as the wave eases.

A Whitehall source said: “There was always a very high threshold for the policy and it looks increasingly likely in a couple of weeks that threshold won’t be met. The way cases are going it will be hard to justify renewing.”

Confirmed cases continued to fall yesterday with 109,133 reported while hospital admissions in England continued to be flat, with 2,127 reported. The total number of Covid-19 patients in beds fell to 16,716.

Scientific advisers have also questioned the requirement for double vaccination as a condition of entry into premises, given evidence that two doses was doing little to stop the spread of Omicron. They remain in favour of requiring a negative test after concluding that the mass use of lateral flow kits was significantly slowing the spread of infection. Last month 100 Tory MPs rebelled against Covid certification. As Boris Johnson tries to fend off talk of a leadership challenge, he will be desperate to avoid asking them to vote to renew the policy on January 26.

It is unlikely that certification will be renewed if the Department of Health argues that it is no longer needed.

Javid was challenged yesterday by Alicia Kearns, the MP for Rutland & Melton, to commit himself “to dropping domestic certification at the earliest possible opportunity”.

He said that he shared her discomfort. “I assure her and the House that as far as I am concerned we will not be keeping domestic certification in place a moment longer than absolutely necessary,” he told her.

Another government source said it was “a fair assumption that [certification] is one that people want to get rid of in particular” but it was too early to make a firm decision. “There are still huge numbers tested positive every day,” the insider said. “We do just need to see where we are in ten days.”

Dropping certification will cheer the hospitality industry and do Javid no harm among backbenchers.

Greg Clark, a former cabinet minister, pressed Javid to lift the restrictions later this month, saying they “have an impact beyond Covid as we know”. He added: “We should be as responsive in lifting as we are in imposing them.”

Javid said “no restrictions — none at all — should be in place for a moment longer than is absolutely necessary”.

The NHS Confederation of health bosses sought to counter ministers’ increasing optimism yesterday by warning that it was “dangerous complacency” to think that the threat from the Omicron variant had passed.

Matthew Taylor, the organisation’s chief executive, said: “The national data on reported cases offers some hope but we should be under no illusions that this pressure has evaporated. Decisions about what living with Covid-19 will mean must be driven by realism and not by wishful thinking and impatience.”

Researchers who looked at outcomes for all pregnant women in Scotland since March 2020 found that most complications occurred in those who were not vaccinated.