Michael Gove has given the strongest hint yet that domestic Covid passports will be needed for fans attending Premier League matches, as he branded those who refuse to get jabbed “selfish”.
The government has already announced that proof of inoculation will be required in nightclubs in England from the end of September, but the Cabinet Office minister went one step further on Tuesday as the number of infections continued to decline but deaths rose to their highest level since mid-March.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson said case numbers were getting “better” but cautioned they could rise significantly again as the effects begin to be felt of his decision to lift most legal restrictions across England that came into force last Monday.
Despite recent warnings that the number of people catching Covid could hit 100,000 a day, the figure appeared to have plateaued at 54,674 on 17 July. It has more than halved since then, with cases down to 23,511 on Tuesday.
Some scientists have been left surprised, with reasons attributed to the decline including the end of the European football championship, the heatwave encouraging more people to socialise outside, England’s schools breaking up for summer and the vaccine rollout.
But the number of people with Covid in hospital is still rising and stands at 5,918, while the number of daily deaths grew to 131 – the highest since 17 March, when the country was still in lockdown.
Gove said domestic Covid passports were “the right way to go” for some venues so “people can be confident that those who are attending those events are less likely to be carriers of the virus” – and specifically cited Premier League matches.
He said that if businesses “required a certain level of safety” from customers, then people who remain unvaccinated by choice should not be surprised if they were “barred” – accusing them of “putting other people’s health and lives at risk”
Johnson earlier urged people not to “run away with premature conclusions” about the dip in Covid cases and said more young people getting jabbed would “help us all to move forward”.
In a move likely to inflame an already-growing row among Tory MPs about the use of documents that essentially mandate vaccination in some settings, the prime minister did not rule out certification being needed for university students to attend lectures from next term
His urge for caution was echoed by Prof Neil Ferguson, the epidemiologist whose modelling spurred the government into action at the start of the Covid pandemic, who warned the UK was not “out of the woods yet”.
He said it would be several weeks before the effect of almost total unlocking was felt, although he admitted “the equation has fundamentally changed” as a result of vaccines “hugely reducing the risk of hospitalisations and death”.
“I’m positive that by late September or October time we will be looking back at most of the pandemic,” said Ferguson, who sits on the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).
“We will have Covid with us, we will still have people dying from Covid, but we’ll have put the bulk of the pandemic behind us.
“Clearly the higher we can get vaccination coverage, the better – that will protect people and reduce transmission – but there is going to be remaining uncertainty until the autumn.”
But there were warnings that the strain on the NHS was showing no sign of abating.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said the pressure on hospital, community, mental health and administration services “feels as great as it did in January”.
About 15,000 of 100,000 NHS beds had been lost because of measures to reduce transmission in patients, and the NHS was still doing “a whole bunch of different things at once” and “trying to recover all of those care backlogs at full pelt”, he told Sky News.
Hopson said there was also “record demand for urgent care” with “large numbers of staff self-isolating”, and more off with stress and other mental health conditions.