Covid vaccine passports: We need more details say Portsmouth venues and businesses

DON’T leave us guessing about Covid passport schemes, businesses across Portsmouth have implored the government.

Wednesday, 7th April 2021, 7:00 am

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that the government is working on coronavirus certification which would get punters back into events, theatres, and gigs later this summer.

Widely described as vaccine passports, they could also show the result of a recent Covid-19 test or whether you have natural immunity from previous infection, as well as showing your vaccine status.

The government is to trial Covid certification schemes at nine pilot events over the next few weeks, including Wembley FA Cup semi-final and the World Snooker Championship.

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Lee Cross of Furniture Factory, North End, Portsmouth on 12 November 2020. Picture: Habibur Rahman

The prime minister has indicated that an emphasis is being placed on clubs, festivals, and theatres, but it remains clear how the scheme will impact non-essential retail.

It’s left Portsmouth venues – and businesses ranging from book shops to furniture stores – feeling that once again they are second-guessing government proposals.

Lee Cross of The Furtinure Factory, in London Road, said: 'It feels like only a week ago they were saying it was a nonsense idea. That's what people don't like – the uncertainty.

'It would probably be better if they came up with concrete details, say “this is what we're going to do”, and then announced it.

The Victorious Festival crowd enjoying Starsailor on the Common Stage in 2019. Picture: Vernon Nash (250819-043)

‘It's all up in the air at the moment.’

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In February, the prime minister said it would be ‘going it a bit’ for pubs to require vaccine passports – but last week a government document suggested that these could be voluntary for boozers and allow them to reduce other Covid-19 restrictions like social distancing.

Jon McKerracher, the landlord of Southsea pub The Hole In The Wall, said it wasn’t fair to leave such a difficult decision up to landlords.

Pigeon Books' owners Phil and Mel Davies. Picture: Sarah Standing

He said: 'I would probably choose not to ask for it.

‘We have got enough on our plate as it is - doing track and trace on everyone that comes through the door, having enough staff to do table service - it's not easy.’

A Covid passport scheme that ended social distancing – doubling the pub’s capacity from 25 to more than 50 punters – would require a lot of thought, according to Jon.

He said: ‘I wouldn’t want to make that decision at the moment.’

A man gets a Covid-19 test. Picture: GEORG HOCHMUTH/APA/AFP via Getty Images

Mel Davies, the owner of Pigeon Books in Southsea, would be enthusiastic about a scheme reducing social distancing and mask wearing, but she would still feel uncomfortable deciding whether or not to enforce a passport scheme.

She said: 'It's not my place as a shop owner.

‘I don’t feel it’s my place to question whether someone has a Covid passport.

‘We would also have to employ someone to be on the door – it would double the amount of staff we would need.’

The amount of uncertainty is already affecting trade for live venues, according to Paul Woolf, the chief executive officer of the Kings Theatre in Southsea, who said customers need more reassurance before they buy tickets for shows months in advance.

He said: ‘Absolutely I would say no to passports. People are very cautious. And the government’s message is very confusing and very cautious.

Paul says talk of Covid passports are putting customers in a cautious mindset, meaning they are less likely to plan for the future.

He added: ‘Ticket sales are dribbling along.

‘We are selling hundreds of pounds of tickets a day. Normally, it would be thousands – or tens of thousands.’

But the organisers of Victorious Festival report a steady stream of ticket sales for this year’s festival, and they remain confident the event will go ahead even with a Covid passport scheme in place.

Even if a Covid passport scheme was voluntary for festivals, it is likely that the decision would be out of their hands, according to co-founder James Ralls.

He said: 'I don't think it would be the case that we could make that decision ourselves.

‘We go through multiple safety advisory groups - which has representatives from every type of organisation in the city, the police, fire, the council - so it would never be just us making the call.'

The government should not leave the ‘complex’ decision around Covid passports up to individual business owners, according to Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan.

He said: ‘My postbag has been full on this issue which is complex and there are no easy answers.

‘Government cannot keep making up policy on the hoof, nor abdicate its responsibility and simply leave this to the private sector. That will only lead to confusion and unfairness.

‘There are genuine questions to answer on what the costs will be for business, and also how this does not discriminate against people, including those that have been told not to have the vaccine such as pregnant women, or against younger people who will not be receiving the vaccine for a few months.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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