Sajid Javid has said the Government “will not be going ahead” with plans for vaccine passports in order to gain access to nightclubs and other crowded events.
Plans had been announced that members of the public would be required to show proof they have had two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine in order to gain entry to clubs and other large-scale events in England.
But in a U-turn on Sunday, following a backlash from Tory MPs, the Health Secretary said the idea had been scrapped.
He told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show: “I’ve never liked the idea of saying to people you must show your papers or something to do what is just an everyday activity, but we were right to properly look at it.
“We’ve looked at it properly and whilst we should keep it in reserve as a potential option, I’m pleased to say that we will not be going ahead with plans for vaccine passports.”
The announcement came shortly after the minister had appeared on Sky News and told host Trevor Phillips a final decision had yet to be made.
Asked about the policy, Mr Javid had said: “We have been looking at that. We’ve been open about that. Instinctively I don’t like the idea at all of people having to, let’s say, present papers to do basic things.
“So if we do that, it has to be something that is looked at very carefully and something that we believe that has to be done with no alternative.
“With the vaccination rates rising – for example with 16 and 17-year-olds we only started just last month, now over 50% of 16 and 17-year-olds are already vaccinated – I think we need to take that into account and make a final decision, but I hope we can avoid it.”
He added: “I am not here today to rule that out. We haven’t made a final decision as a Government.”
Vaccine passports had caused growing disquiet among Tory ranks, as well as facing opposition from opposition parties and industry figures.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi faced a fierce backlash when he defended the policy in the Commons on Wednesday, with Tory MPs accusing the Government of picking an “unnecessary fight” with them.
He said: “It is not something… we do lightly, it is something to allow us to transition this virus from pandemic to endemic status.”
The decision means Covid measures in England again deviate from those in Scotland, where a motion on their introduction was passed in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday, while a decision is expected in Wales next week.
Stormont ministers have yet to reach an official position on using vaccine access passports within Northern Ireland.
Mr Javid also said he wanted to remove the need for PCR tests for travel “as soon as I possibly can”.
But asked whether ministers were removing too many measures designed to keep the public safe, he said the Government should not be introducing coronavirus measures “just for the sake of it”.
He told The Andrew Marr Show: “There’s a lot of defences, we’ve just gone through some of them, that we need to keep in place, because this virus hasn’t gone anywhere.
“There’s still a pandemic so of course we need to remain cautious.
“But we just shouldn’t be doing things for the sake of it or because others are doing, and we should look at every possible intervention properly.”
On vaccine passports specifically, he added: “We’ve been looking at the evidence, which I think anyone would expect us to do, but you’ve got to look at it alongside the whole toolbox, what else we are doing, and as I say the vaccine programme, our testing programme, our surveillance programme, the new treatments that the NHS has been purchasing and offering for the first time, this is all our wall of defence.”
Mr Javid also said he will not “push” chief medical officers for their advice on vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds, but added he has asked for schools to start preparing.