THE Government’s autumn and winter plan for the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has been welcomed by Church House, noting that communal worship and life events will not become subject to vaccination certification, even under “Plan B”.
The statement recognises “the very positive effects of the vaccination campaign and also the ongoing risks posed by Covid-19”.
On Tuesday, the Government announced that all those who had been vaccinated during Phase 1 of the vaccine programme — the over-50s and adults aged 16 to 65 years in an at-risk group — would be offered booster jabs from this month. Those who tested positive and their unvaccinated contacts would still be legally required to self-isolate. Individuals and businesses would eventually be expected to bear the cost of lateral-flow tests (currently available free of charge).
A range of “Plan B” measures had also been agreed, in the case of indications that the NHS was at risk of being overwhelmed, including “mandatory vaccine only Covid status certification in certain, riskier settings”. The Times reports that this refers to all indoor venues with 500 or more people, outdoor settings with more than 4000 people, and all settings with more than 10,000 people. Religious services, including weddings and funerals, would be exempt.
Compared with this time last year, the Prime Minister said on Tuesday, “our position today is actually more challenging. We have higher levels of daily cases — thousands more. But in many other crucial respects, the British people — all of us, collectively and individually — are incomparably better placed to fight the disease.
“We have more than 80 per cent of all over-16s now double-jabbed, double-vaccinated. And we have Covid antibodies in around 90 per cent of the adult population. . .
“And the result of this vaccination campaign is that we have one of the most free societies and one of the most open economies in Europe. And that’s why we are now sticking with our strategy.”
It was not sensible to rule out mandatory Covid certification, he suggested, “when we must face the fact that it might still make the difference between keeping businesses open at full capacity or not”.
The Church of England’s official position is that “it would be difficult for it to justify limiting access to church services or organisations on the basis of vaccine passports. Such an approach would run contrary to the principle of the Church being a home and a refuge for all.
“Similarly, only in exceptional circumstances is the Church likely to utilise vaccine passports should they become available in order to facilitate additional services to its members or to the wider community, preferring to continue to emphasise existing mitigations.
“While the Church is, in principle, opposed to making use of vaccine passports, it should adopt a flexible approach to their limited wider use with the important caveats that such use ought to be demonstrably beneficial to society as a whole, protective of the vulnerable in particular, non-discriminatory in nature and proportionate in use.”
A guidance note issued at the beginning of the month stated: “We are being asked to take even more personal responsibility around coronavirus than when we were compelled to adhere to Government restrictions.” It warned that “for many people, the relaxation of restrictions is a source of significant anxiety. . . care should be taken not to make assumptions about how someone else is feeling about the current situation.”
The latest data indicate that more than 1000 people are being admitted to hospital with Covid-19 every day. On Monday, the UK’s four chief medical officers recommended the single-dose vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds.