Ministers 'working with tech firms on immunity passports scheme'

Ministers are ‘working with tech firms on immunity passports scheme’ which would show if someone has had or has coronavirus and enable Britain to get back to work after lockdown

  • Ministers and tech firms in discussions about rolling out ‘immunity passports’
  • They would verify someone’s identity and then show if someone has had a test
  • If someone tested negative for disease they would be able to go back to work
  • Questions remain over whether someone who had disease now has immunity
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

The roll-out of ‘immunity passports’ is being considered by ministers as part of the government’s attempts to get Britain back to work after the coronavirus lockdown is eased. 

Ministers are believed to be in talks with tech firms about developing a form of digital identification which would verify who someone is and show whether they have been tested for the disease.

The passports could either be based on antigen testing which shows if someone currently has coronavirus or on antibody testing which shows if someone has had it. 

The digital documents would show if someone has tested negative on an antigen test or if they have shown to have some resistance to coronavirus after an antibody test, demonstrating to an employer they are safe to re-enter the workplace. 

Such a scheme could be a game-changer for ministers as they try to figure out how to kickstart the UK economy.  

Boris Johnson is expected to unveil his lockdown exit strategy in an address to the nation on Sunday, having delayed the announcement from Thursday as frantic work continues in Whitehall. 

Today it emerged that reduced hot-desking, the closure of office lifts and canteens, and putting tape on the floor to mark where people should stand are all likely to be proposed by the government under plans to restore office working. 

‘Immunity passports’ could form part of Matt Hancock’s ‘test, track and trace’ programme. The Health Secretary is pictured arriving in Downing Street today 

Road map for exiting coronavirus lockdown 

A leaked draft has revealed more details of the shape of the next phase of coronavirus curbs – due to be unveiled by Boris Johnson on Sunday. 

Key points include: 

  • Flexibility around the two metre ‘social distancing’ rule as long as firms are taking other steps to protect workers.
  • Installing screens, strict hygiene procedures, and ensuring people are not close together very long are touted as alternative safeguards. 
  • Offices will be ordered to overhaul their rotas, staggering start, finish and break times.
  • Hot desking will need to end and sharing equipment kept to an absolute minimum. 
  • Staff considered vulnerable who cannot work from home should be put in the ‘safest possible roles’. 

The Guardian reported that a UK-based company called Onfido, a facial biometrics verification specialist, has been in contact with the government about how such a passporting scheme could work. 

It is thought the timeline for rolling it out could be a matter of months if it were to be given the green light.     

Such a scheme would likely form part of Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s ‘test, track and trace’ programme. 

A government source said a certification system is ‘still on the table’ as an option and is ‘being considered’.  

However, the government is increasingly reluctant to describe it as an ‘immunity passport’ due to ongoing uncertainty over whether someone who has had the disease is then immune to it. 

Many scientists believe people who have recovered will have some degree of resistance to coronavirus but this is yet to be 100 per cent confirmed amid further questions over whether immunity could wane over time.

The digital health certificate plan would see an app developed using facial verification technology. 

People would likely have to take a photograph of a form of government ID like a passport or driver’s licence and then a selfie. The app would then match the two pieces of evidence together. 

A person’s test results would then be stored by the provider of the checks, likely the NHS, with the data linked to the app.

People would be able to go to work, generate a QR code on their phone and scan it on a camera in reception. 

The employer would then be able to see if someone has tested negative or if they have previously had the disease – depending on which test is used.         

It came as draft documents from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) gave an indication of how the working world could change after lockdown. 

The Tube was still busy today despite the strict lockdown rules in force – amid claims from unions that the government wants services back up to at least 85 per cent by May 18

Customers maintain social distancing as they wait to enter a supermarket in north London yesterday

The documents, seen by the BBC and the Financial Times, say extra cleaning should be introduced in office spaces and the use of protective equipment should be considered where maintaining a distance of two metres between workers is not possible.

For workers who have customer-facing roles, plastic screens should be erected to help protect them, while continued home working and staggered shifts should also be encouraged, the guidance says.

The proposals are among a list of guidelines in seven documents drawn up after consultation with executives, trade bodies and unions.

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