Sajid Javid to leave Covid Passports as Omicron surge recedes

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Covid passports will be abandoned a few days after Sajid Javid effectively removed the policy.

The health secretary has concluded that Covid-19 certification is no longer necessary as the Omicron wave subsides. He told MPs that he shared their “instinctive discomfort” with politics.

With ministers keen to lift guidance on working from home when plan B measures are reviewed on January 26, it is increasingly likely that compulsory masks in closed spaces will be the only remaining order next month, if restrictions are not completely removed.

Javid told MPs yesterday that there were “encouraging signs that infections” were declining in parts of the country and that the NHS was coping.

He acknowledged that hospitals remained under “significant pressure” and “we must proceed with caution.” However, he was “encouraging that during this wave we have not seen an increase in the number of intensive care patients with covid-19 and there are early signs that the rate of hospitalization is starting to decline.”

As ministers become increasingly confident that the Omicron wave is passing, NHS chiefs will today warn against “dangerous complacency” over the state of the health service.

Javid filed the case last month to requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter big events and nightclubs in England as part of plan B measures when the Omicron surge began. It is now understood that he will argue, when the measure is reviewed next week, that it is no longer necessary and will argue that his justification is weakening as the wave subsides.

A Whitehall source said: “There was always a very high threshold for the policy and it seems increasingly likely that in a couple of weeks that threshold will not be reached. The way the cases are going, it’s going to be hard to justify renewal.”

Confirmed cases continued to fall yesterday with 109,133 reported, while hospital admissions in England remained stable, with 2,127 reported. The total number of Covid-19 patients in beds dropped to 16,716.

Scientific advisers have also questioned the double vaccination requirement as a condition for entering the facilitygiven evidence that two doses were doing little to stop the spread of Omicron. They remain in favor of requiring a negative test after concluding that the massive use of lateral flow kits was significantly slowing the spread of infection. Last month, 100 Conservative MPs rebelled against Covid certification. While Boris Johnson tries to avoid talking about a leadership challenge, he will be desperate to avoid asking them to vote to renew the policy on January 26.

It is unlikely that the certification will be renewed if the Department of Health argues that it is no longer necessary.

Javid was challenged yesterday by Alicia Kearns, MP for Rutland & Melton, to commit “to abandoning national certification at the earliest possible opportunity”.

He said he shared his discomfort. “I assure her and the House that, as far as I am concerned, we will not maintain national certification any longer than is absolutely necessary,” he told her.

Another government source said it was “a fair assumption that [certification] it’s one that people want to get rid of in particular,” but it was too early to make a firm decision. “There are still a large number of people testing positive every day,” the source said. “We just need to see where we are in ten days.”

Dropping certification will liven up the hotel industry and won’t hurt Javid in the MPs.

Greg Clark, a former cabinet minister, pressed Javid to lift the restrictions later this month, saying they “have an impact beyond covid as we know”. He added: “We should be as responsive in lifting as we are in imposing them.”

Javid said “no restrictions, none at all, should be in place for a moment longer than absolutely necessary.”

The Confederation of NHS health chiefs tried to counter ministers’ growing optimism yesterday by warning that it was “dangerous complacency” to think the threat from the Omicron variant had passed.

Matthew Taylor, executive director of the organisation, said: “National data on reported cases offers some hope, but we should not be under any illusions that this pressure has evaporated. Decisions about what it will mean to live with Covid-19 must be driven by realism and not wishful thinking and impatience.”

Researchers looking at the outcomes of all pregnant women in Scotland since March 2020 found that the majority of complications occurred in those who were not vaccinated.

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