After Boris Johnson’s sudden U-turn on domestic Covid passports, these are the questions many politicians want answers to.
Johnson admitted on Monday that there was a “continuing risk posed” by nightclubs – prompting bafflement from some MPs about why he allowed them to open that same day but will not make proof of vaccination mandatory for another two months.
While the prime minister is using the documents partly to encourage more young people to get jabbed, there is nervousness in Downing Street about locking them out of certain settings before they have had a chance to get inoculated against Covid.
Those aged 18 have only been eligible to book their first dose for three weeks, meaning the government intends to wait until the point at which all adults should have been able to get their second dose before making the certificates compulsory.
There is also speculation that the policy has been rushed out following scenes of revellers flocking to nightclubs – which have been shut since the start of the pandemic – before the full details have been nailed down.
But allowing what could be super-spreader events to go ahead for so long has already sparked unease from some scientists, and Tory backbenchers speculate Johnson could quickly bring the change forward in yet another capitulation.
Johnson has so far only named nightclubs as the sort of place where domestic vaccine passports will be required.
The as-yet-undefined other “venues where large crowds gather” that will also need to implement the scheme has prompted speculation about whether pubs and bars could be included, too – and eyebrows were raised when the prime minister was specifically invited to rule them out but declined to do so.
Environments that see hundreds of people queuing, then packed together in unventilated spaces and dancing in close contact to strangers are not limited to nightclubs.
Hospitality venues fear they will be next and that locking some customers out of their venues will hit their profits, but scientists are likely to point out that nightclubs are not the only example of high-risk settings.
Another issue that has got tongues wagging in Westminster is the curious decision by Johnson for the Covid passports that will let people gain entry to some venues not to include testing. Initially, the documents were envisaged as a way of letting people prove they had been jabbed, got a recent negative test result or proof of antibodies through prior, natural infection.
But that has been dropped – and the prime minister now says only proof of vaccination will suffice. Given that people who have had both doses can still catch Covid – the health secretary, Sajid Javid, being the most prominent recent example – some Tories are confused about the decision. They believe testing is a more effective way of tracking someone’s risk of carrying the virus, and Johnson needs to set out clearly why he has dumped the idea.
The brunt of Johnson’s argument was that more young people need to get jabbed because there appears to be higher levels of vaccine-hesitancy and apathy in younger age groups.
Given that young people were less likely to be admitted to hospital and die from the virus than those in the older age groups, polling has found take-up was expected to drop off.
Instead of this being the nudge some will take as a cue to get vaccinated, some behavioural scientists fear this will harden some sceptics’ views and make them less likely to get jabbed.
The Local Government Association suggests that “eliciting empathy” and “offering a small reward”, such as vouchers, are some of the best ways to boost take-up.
Other methods to boost the number of young people getting vaccinated have been tried in countries around the world, with France running an advertising campaign highlighting the “desirable” effects of getting jabbed, showing a couple kissing and people at a festival. In Israel, some places offered free pizza or a pint.
The first rule in politics is: learn to count. Tory whips will be nervously looking at the number of backbenchers who could rebel and vote against any plans – with more than 40 of them having previously pledged to do so, effectively nullifying Johnson’s majority. If they do rebel and opposition parties also vote against the measures, domestic passports would be dead in the water.