Leading figures in the UK entertainment industry have expressed reservations about the prospect of using Covid passports as venues reopen, especially if they require proof of vaccination.
The government has said Covid-status certificates could be used at theatres, nightclubs and festivals from June.
They could be used to prove if a person has been vaccinated, has had a recent negative test or has natural immunity.
But some industry figures say they have “deep concerns” over the proposals.
The announcement of a series of pilot events, which will start later this month, has already proved controversial.
Trial events are due to take place at venues in Liverpool, as well as sporting fixtures including the Snooker World Championships and FA Cup Final.
Everyone will need to take a test before and after their event, and the government has said “Covid-status certification will also be trialled as part of the pilot programme”.
But confusion over whether that will include proof of vaccinations led Liverpool’s Hot Water Comedy Club – which was scheduled to host the first pilot event on 16 April – to pull out. It got online abuse after the media wrongly reported that a vaccination would be required for entry.
The government has said any use of Covid-status certificates would be “time-limited”.
It’s safe to say those in the entertainment industry are desperate to welcome back gig-goers, clubbers, film fans and theatre lovers. But how do those in the industry feel about the proposals?
Out of 700 businesses surveyed by the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), which represents businesses like nightclubs, bars and festivals, 70% felt that vaccine certificates, negative testing or immunity proof were not necessary to reopen, the organisation said.
And 69% felt they would have a negative impact on business.
NTIA chief executive Michael Kill said there were still “deep concerns over the measures required for all businesses to reopen” on 21 June, which is the earliest date for step four of the government’s reopening roadmap.
“The positive news from the roadmap has been overshadowed by the potential impact of Covid status certificates being implemented by the government for businesses to allow for the ease of social contact restrictions, with the overwhelming majority of UK nightlife sector believing the measures will have a detrimental impact on trade,” he said.
He added that initial feedback from customers was that “many are not comfortable using health information to gain access to venues or events in the UK”, and the requirement to produce such certificates would discourage people from going out in the future.
Phil Clapp, chief executive of the UK Cinema Association, has similar reservations. “We remain very much opposed to any requirement to ask customers to prove their Covid status,” he told BBC News.
“That’s a point of principle in terms of whether it’s appropriate to ask someone to prove they’ve had a medical procedure when going to what’s supposed to be a place of entertainment.
“Also because of the whole range of discrimination issues which might arise,” he added. “A roadmap requiring them to have a negative test will act… as a massive deterrent to people coming to the cinema. Many visits by young people, given their lifestyles, are spontaneous.
“It’s not to say that we’re not alive to concerns around public health… we were able to open last year and did so effectively and successfully. No new cases of Covid were traced back to the UK cinema.”
Jon Morgan from the Theatres Trust said he would rather not use Covid certificates, but would consider it as a short-term measure to help get back to normality.
“As we await the outcome of the planned events research programme [the pilots], it is too early to say whether Covid certification can play a meaningful role in helping theatres reopen without social distancing,” he said.
“It would be preferable if full reopening could be achieved without the use of Covid certification, but if it were to be used it would need to be only a temporary measure on the road to normalisation, and to be as broad and as non-discriminatory as possible, including both testing and proof of immunity alongside proof of vaccine.”
Stephanie Sirr, chief executive of the Nottingham Playhouse and vice president of UK Theatre, said she was not in favour of vaccination passports, but that testing alone would be the best route.
“We think that testing could be delivered in such a way as it’s quick and easy, it becomes a normal part of life,” she said. “A testing passport seems like a very sensible way forward.
“Vaccination passports will be much more complicated to deliver, and potentially quite unfair – probably about 30% of our audience is under 26 and they’re not being vaccinated until the autumn.”
She added: “There are a lot of people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons and there’s no way on Earth that we’re going to have a Nottingham Playhouse where we can’t welcome all people. You cannot exclude a whole tranche of people.”
Testing would have to be free or very low cost “as our margins have been cut to the bone”, she said.
Paul Reed, chief executive of the Association of Independent Festivals, was also concerned about vaccination passports. “As things stand, it seems Covid status certification would cover not only vaccine status but also testing and proof of immunity,” he said.
“If Covid certification was just about vaccine status, it would not be enabling for summer festivals given the timeframe of the vaccination programme for all adults. We would also be wary of discrimination against customers who may not have had vaccines for various reasons.
“Until we know more, it is too early to meaningfully comment on the implications and viability of Covid certificates for festivals. We will reserve judgement until we understand exactly what the government is proposing in terms of specifics and mechanics.”