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UK vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi walks in London in December 2020.
UK vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi walks in London in December 2020. Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

Vaccine certification as means of unlocking British society would not be discriminatory, the UK vaccines minister insisted on Tuesday, as the proposal continues to attract controversy in the UK.

The minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said such a requirement does raise “a number of ethical issues” but “it would be remiss of us as a government” not to look at all the options to reopen the economy and “take our lives back.”

No decision has been made yet, he said on BBC Breakfast, but “ultimately whatever we decide has to be workable, has to be non-discriminatory. You can’t have a sort of two tier or multi-tiered system.”

The comments from Zahawi – echoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s words a day earlier – are the latest indication that a government which once ruled out the possibility of “vaccine passports” is sliding towards introducing them.

Zahawi himself previously rejected the idea of introducing a vaccine passport: “One, we don’t know the impact of the vaccines on transmission. Two, it would be discriminatory,” he said on Sky News in February.

But the scheme will now be piloted in the coming weeks for large-scale events, cinemas and theatres. 

Asked on BBC Breakfast how this will be possible without being discriminatory, Zahawi said: “There is not going to be a situation where a government is going to allow that to happen, but it’s only right that we look at all technologies. 

He continued: “Everyone can get a test, there is no discrimination, anyone can get a test, not everybody can get a vaccine […] which is why we’ve got to look at all the technologies, make sure they work together to get us to the place where we need to be.”

The subject has been met with both support and backlash from across the political spectrum, with several figures in Johnson’s own Conservative party against the idea of vaccine passports. 

The government published an update to its review on easing lockdown restrictions on Monday, which said: “Even without Government intervention, Covid-status certification is likely to become a feature of our lives until the threat from the pandemic recedes.”

Separately, Zahawi affirmed the Moderna vaccine is on track to be rolled out in the UK “around the third week of April.”

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