Boris Johnson Announces Free Covid Testing and Status Certificates for England –

Boris Johnson Announces Free Covid Testing and Status Certificates for England

LONDON – Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave the British their first detailed look at what a post-pandemic society would look like on Monday, announcing free twice-weekly coronavirus tests in England and Covid status certificates that would allow people with immunity to enter. Crowded nightclubs and sporting events. .

The plans were the next step in the British government’s cautious reopening of the economy and its first effort to tackle thorny questions about how to distinguish between people who are protected against the virus and those who are still vulnerable, as the country Back to normal. .

“I will go to the pub myself and cautiously but irreversibly put a pint of beer to my lips,” Johnson told a news conference at 10 Downing Street, while listing the next round of relaxed restrictions.

Trying to strike a balance between public health and personal freedoms, he said Britain would devise a system to certify the Covid status of anyone seeking to enter higher risk environments. While pubs and nonessential shops may require a Covid-free status test, they will not be required to do so.

Britain has long resisted the idea of ​​requiring people to carry identity papers and, for some in the country, this issue has authoritarian undertones. The leader of the opposition Labor Party, Keir Starmer, recently suggested that Covid’s “passports” could be against “British instinct.”

Johnson acknowledged the sensitivities and noted that the certification plan would not be implemented for a few months. The government plans to test the program in pilot locations, from a comedy club and disco in Liverpool to the FA Cup football final at Wembley Stadium.

“You have to be very careful in handling this,” he said, “and not put in place a discriminatory system.”

Starting next week, the prime minister said non-essential shops, barber shops and beer gardens would be allowed to reopen in England’s pubs. But he was far more cautious about traveling abroad, declining to say whether the government would stick to its previous May 17 goal of lifting the ban on overseas vacations.

Britain plans to classify countries according to a traffic light system, with visitors from green countries not forced to isolate themselves, visitors from amber countries forced to isolate themselves at home for several days and those from red countries forced to continue quarantine in hotels.

With more than 31 million people who have received at least one vaccine injection and the country still largely on lockdown, Britain has slashed its new cases, hospital admissions and deaths from the virus. As a result, Johnson’s focus has shifted to managing an increasingly open society.

One of its most ambitious plans is to offer free rapid test kits to the entire population so that people can be tested routinely. The kits, already used by hospitals and schools, will be available by mail order or in pharmacies.

Public health experts applauded the gradual pace of the government’s measures, which they said were appropriate for a country where the virus was still circulating, even with declining death rates and a rapid launch of the vaccine. But they expressed skepticism about the testing program and questioned whether people would have the incentive to get tested twice a week.

“The tests only work if people isolate themselves based on a positive result,” said Devi Sridhar, director of the global public health program at the University of Edinburgh. “But if they can’t go to work and they will lose income, what is the incentive to get tested?”

Britain’s experience with testing and tracing has been one of the most abysmal parts of its pandemic performance. Even now, experts said, it isolates only a quarter to half of the people who come in contact with people who test positive for the virus.

“There is still no adequate effort to support isolation, and an obsession with test rates without an apparent understanding of the purpose of the tests,” said David King, a former senior scientific adviser to the British government who has been an outspoken critic of your response to the pandemic.

While Professor King credited the government for finally becoming more cautious, he said, “the level of the virus in the country is so high that there is no reason to think that we are out of this.”

The announcement about Covid certification follows weeks of mixed signals. In February, Nadhim Zahawi, the minister responsible for launching the vaccine, described its use for anything other than foreign travel as “incorrect and discriminatory.” Last month, Johnson suggested that it could be up to individual pubs to decide whether to require Covid passports before serving customers.

Under current government thinking, certification would apply to people who are vaccinated, recently tested negative for the virus, or who can demonstrate natural immunity from having recovered from Covid.

The opposition comes from both left-wing civil libertarians and right-wing libertarians. Last week, more than 70 lawmakers signed a letter opposing the “divisive and discriminatory use” of Covid passports. Among them were more than 40 conservative lawmakers who are part of the Covid Recovery Group, a group of lawmakers who have criticized the lockdown measures.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Graham Brady, who chairs an influential group of conservative advocates, argued that Covid passports make little practical sense because many young people will likely not have been offered a vaccine by the time the government plans to reopen much of the economy. . . Fundamental principles are also at stake, he said.

“At the beginning of last year, patient confidentiality was a sacred principle and the idea of ​​other people being able to inspect our medical records was anathema,” Brady wrote. “Now the state is contemplating making us disclose our Covid status as a condition of going to the pub or the movies.”

Given the skepticism of Labor leader Mr Starmer, the government knows that if it goes too far, it could lose a vote on the measure in Parliament.

Still, some see the civil liberties arguments as more balanced. Adam Wagner, a human rights lawyer and expert on Covid-related laws, said the government needs to act carefully because of privacy concerns and because “a system like this could put them on a collision course with anti-discrimination laws, for example. for people who cannot be vaccinated due to a disability. “

But he added that there was nonetheless a valid civil liberties argument for introducing vaccine passports.

“The confinement is a very serious imposition on everyone’s freedom and increasingly a hammer to crack a nut,” Wagner said. “One way to reduce the possibility of confinement is to allow people who are not infectious, or who are less likely to be, do more of the things that people normally do than those who are infectious or who are more likely to be infectious. . “

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