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Britain Cancels Any Plans for Vaccine Passports, for Now

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After months of cries of tyranny and discrimination raised by speculation that Britain would require vaccine passports for entry into crowded venues like stores and nightclubs, the authorities said on Sunday any such plans had been scrapped, at least for the moment.

Sajid Javid, Britain’s health secretary, said the passports — essentially, documentation proving vaccination against Covid-19 — were still “a potential option” for the future. “It should be looked at in combination with other measures,” he told the BBC on Sunday.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to discuss the decision to scrap the passport idea on Tuesday, and a government statement said he would also address the likelihood that Covid booster shots would be rolled out soon and warn of the “renewed challenges” to come this winter as the flu season threatens to increase the strain on the country’s health care system.

After new cases plateaued this spring, the British authorities lifted its most recent lockdown restrictions in July. But the country is now grappling with a late summer surge, fueled by the Delta variant, and the seven-day average of new cases hit more than 36,000 on Saturday, a level not seen since after Christmas, according to data from the British government. Two-thirds of the country is fully vaccinated.

British lawmakers began suggesting in the spring that the government might require the passports, drawing fire from critics who said that the move would risk widening already dangerous social gaps between those who can access the vaccine and those who cannot.

Around the world, the idea of establishing passports — also referred to as health passes or digital health certificates — has been under discussion as a tool to allow economies to restart and to allow hundreds of millions of vaccinated people to return to a degree of normalcy. Some versions might permit bearers to travel internationally, or allow entry to vaccinated-only spaces like gyms, concert venues and restaurants.

But the mainstreaming of such credentials could also usher in an era of increased digital surveillance, privacy experts say, noting that they could enable location tracking and that there are few rules on how people’s digital vaccine data should be stored or shared.

The Biden administration has made clear that it will neither issue nor require the passports. In France, thousands have taken to the streets to protest the government’s new health pass law, which bars those without proof of vaccination or a recent negative test from many indoor venues. The Scottish Parliament voted last week to introduce a vaccine passport system as of Oct. 1. Italians have largely embraced the so-called green pass, which was put in place in early August.

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