Everyone in England will be urged to test for coronavirus twice a week as a new Covid passport system is being evaluated for use on a large scale, under Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to reopen the economy after the shutdown.
The free test kits will be available through local pharmacies, community centers and home delivery services when the new regimen goes live on April 9.
Given that the majority of the adult population has now received a vaccine, the government believes that rapid population-wide testing and a Covid status certification system will help maintain control over the pandemic as restrictions are eased.
Johnson is due to lay out the details later Monday, before the next step to lift the curbs for businesses and citizens due April 12.
“The British public has made enormous efforts to stop the spread of the virus,” Johnson said in a statement issued by his office. “As we continue to make good progress on our vaccine program and with our roadmap to cautiously ease ongoing restrictions, periodic rapid testing is even more important to ensure those efforts are not wasted.”
The UK has suffered the highest death toll in Europe from the pandemic and is still reeling from the country’s deepest recession in 300 years.
A vaccination program that has quickly overtaken the rest of Europe has seen 31.5 million people receive at least one vaccine so far, and puts the UK in a good position to reopen even as nearby countries like France are closing again.
Under Johnson’s plans:
- International travel may resume, possibly as of May 17, with a new A “traffic light” system that codes countries in red, amber or green, depending on their pandemic risks. Risk scores will take into account a country’s vaccination program, infection rate, virus strains, and sequencing capacity.
- Arrivals to the UK from eco-friendly countries will not need to be isolated but will need to test before departure and after arrival. The quarantine and isolation rules will apply to passengers entering the country from places on the red and amber lists.
- A Covid status certification system, often referred to as a Covid passport, will be developed in the coming months that could allow riskier venues such as sporting events, nightclubs and theaters to reopen.
- The Covid certificates, which could be on paper or via a smartphone app, will be tested at massive events, including top soccer matches and other sporting occasions in the coming weeks; pubs, shops and restaurants will not need to use certification to reopen
- A social distancing review will consider when families will be allowed to hug again and if Covid passports could see the distancing guidelines removed.
Many of the measures contained in Johnson’s plan will have to pass Parliament. Johnson is likely to face battle demands from some of his own Conservative Party colleagues to lift the blockade faster, while more than 70 members of Parliament have launched a campaign to oppose vaccine passports, citing concerns about the erosion of freedoms.