One of the most controversial aspects of the government’s COVID “Plan B” is the requirement for some venues to carry out testing and vaccine certificate checks.
Boris Johnson suffered the biggest Conservative rebellion since 2019, as 100 Tory MPs opposed the introduction of the proposals.
Despite the large rebellion, the House of Commons approved mandatory use of the NHS COVID pass in nightclubs and large events in England.
What is the aim of the new rules?
According to the explanatory note of the legislation, the purpose is “to impose obligations on those organising certain events, or managing certain venues, to take reasonable measures to ensure that they do not admit any person to such events, or venues, unless the person concerned has been fully vaccinated or has tested negative for coronavirus within the last 48 hours”.
The regulations will only apply in England.
When will the new rules come into effect?
With MPs voting in favour of the measure, the provisions in the regulations will come into effect at 6am on Wednesday.
What will venues be expected to do?
Venues will be expected to check if a person has either received a negative test no more than 48 hours before the event, or completed “a course of two doses of authorised vaccine” – with the second dose received at least two weeks before the event.
If the person is participating, or has participated in a clinical trial of a coronavirus vaccine, or for clinical reasons cannot be vaccinated, they will be exempt.
Venues will be able to apply to their local authority to request specific exemptions against checking every person if they believe doing so could endanger the safety of any person attending. For example, if checkpoints cannot be set up far enough away from entrances to avoid large crowds building up.
The manager of the venue will be expected to produce, and keep updated, a statement setting out the measures they intend to take to meet the obligations and how they will be implemented.
What proof will they need to see?
For proof of a negative test, the following documents would be eligible:
- A test result registered with the NHS smartphone app, or the equivalent from any British overseas territory, the Channel Islands of Isle of Man.
- A letter from the NHS
- A test result notification from a valid qualifying test from a recognised provider
For proof of vaccination status, the following documents would be eligible:
- COVID pass as generated by the NHS app, or the equivalent from any British overseas territory, the Channel Islands of Isle of Man.
- A letter from the NHS
- COVID certificates issued by the EU, US or other approved third countries
Which venues will be required to check for a recent negative test or vaccination status?
- Nightclubs, dance halls, discotheques
- Indoor live music venues, theatres and concert halls at which 500 or more people are expected to stand or moving around during the performance
- Indoor exhibitions or conference halls at which more than 500 people are expected to stand or move around during the event
- Indoor sports stadiums, arenas, centres, pools or rinks at which more than 500 people are expected to stand or move around the venue.
- Outdoor sports stadiums, arenas, centres, pools or rinks at which more than 4,000 people are expected to stand or move around the venue.
- Any venue open at anytime between 1am and 5am
- Any venue that serves alcohol after 1am
- Any venue with a dance floor for members of the public
- Any venue that provides music, live or recorded, for dancing
- Any venue with the capacity to host a gathering of 10,000 people on any occasion when 10,000 or more people are expected to attend that venue.
Are there any exemptions for those venues?
- Music venues that do not provide space for dancing
- If dancing only takes place as part of a performance, amateur or professional, which includes an element of dance or a rehearsal for such a performance.
- Dance events that take place outside and are attended by fewer than 4,000 people at any point.
- A private dwelling would be exempt unless a charge is made for entry or the gathering is ticketed – but this does not include hotels, hostels, private members’ clubs, student accommodation or accommodation for members of the armed forces.
Any other exemptions?
Yes, as long as there is no entry charge or ticketing, venues are not required to check for negative tests or vaccination status is they are hosting the following events:
- Communal worship,
- Weddings and civil partnerships
- Wedding receptions
- Celebrations of significant life events – such as the birth of a child, coming of age, or obtaining full membership of a religion.
How will it be enforced?
Local authority officers will be designated by local authorities. They will have the powers to enter any premises at reasonable hours to carry out inspections if they believe there has been a breach of the regulations.
They will be able to issue either Coronavirus Improvement Notices, which act as a warning that changes need to be made by a certain point in time, or Restriction Notices and Immediate Restriction Notices, which requires either the immediate closure of the premises, or an immediate change to be made. Fixed penalty notices of up to £10,000 can be issued for repeat offenders.
Any notice issued can be appealed at the Magistrates’ Court.
Will you need a booster jab to have an eligible COVID vaccine certificate?
Not initially. The wording of the regulations that MPs are being asked to approve say that a person will be deemed to have completed a course of doses of authorised vaccines if they have “received at least 2 doses of any of the [approved] vaccines” or “received a does of one authorised vaccine and a dose of a different authorised vaccine.”
However, in a statement to parliament, Health Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs: “Once all adults have had a reasonable chance to get their booster jab, we intend to change this exemption to require a booster dose”.
Do you need to self-isolate if you come into close contact with someone who has COVID?
Health Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs: “From tomorrow [Tuesday] fully vaccinated contacts of a COVID-19 case will now be able to take a daily lateral flow test instead of self-isolating. This is a vital way to minimise the disruption to people’s daily lives and to avoid the so-called pingdemic.”
Are there enough lateral flow tests?
The government has sought to play down suggestions there is a shortage of lateral flow tests.
Mr Javid told MPs: “I can assure this house that the UK has sufficient lateral flow tests to see us through the coming weeks. If anyone finds they are unable to get a kit online they should check the website the following down, or they could pop down to their local pharmacy and pick up a kit”
However, there were widespread reports on Monday of people experiencing difficulties ordering online, and pharmacies running low on stock.