Leader Sir Keir Starmer today said he was ready to support “passports plus testing” to enable mass-attendance events to admit large audiences, but said he would rule out checks to access healthcare or food shops.
He suggested the government should take another look at the 16 August date for double-vaccinated people to be exempt from the requirement to self-isolate, if current exemptions for key workers are shown to not be effective.
Sir Keir said he hoped the date could be brought forward to help rein in the “pingdemic”, which he said was causing “absolute chaos” for the UK economy.
The Labour leader – who is self-isolating after his 13-year-old son tested positive for Covid-19 – said he would distinguish between people who are living with a coronavirus patient, who should continue to observe quarantine, and those “pinged” due to casual contacts, who might be exempt from the requirement to stay home.
He rejected threats from the RMT transport union of possible industrial action if staff were forced to work alongside colleagues exempted from self-isolation, saying that strikes were not “the right way” to deal with the fear of infections.
There was speculation last week that Sir Keir could join Liberal Democrats and Conservative rebels in opposing the use of vaccination records on the NHS smartphone app as a means of regulating access to venues.
With 40 or more Tories expected to vote against the scheme – initially proposed for nightclubs and similar businesses – Labour opposition could consign the prime minister to defeat when the measure reaches the Commons in September.
But, speaking on LBC radio today, Sir Keir said he wanted to be “pragmatic” about the scheme, making clear he was not committed to telling his MPs to vote against it.
“We’ll look at what government puts forward,” the Labour leader said. “I want to be pragmatic about it.
“I want to make sure that sports and all sectors are opened up as quickly as possible.
“I think that passports on their own aren’t enough, because as we know, sadly, you can be double-jabbed and still get the new variant.
“So it’s got to be passports plus testing. And that would be for sporting events, etc.”
Sir Keir said that Labour support for vaccine passports would be dependent on them being restricted to a limited set of circumstances.
“I don’t want to see vaccine passport used on an everyday basis for access to critical things like health, dentistry, food, etc,” he said.
“For sporting events, I will look at what the government puts on the table. I want to be pragmatic because we all want all business sectors and sporting sectors to return as quickly as possible, but not for everyday use, because I don’t want to see people denied health, dentistry, food, because they have no vaccine passport.”
Sir Keir said that if the government’s exemptions from self-isolation for key workers were shown to be effective “then we should support it and look again at 16 August”.
And he added: “I’m hoping we can do something because at the moment it’s absolute chaos in terms of keeping the economy going, keeping businesses going.”
The Labour leader distanced himself from predecessor Tony Blair’s proposal that double-jabbed people with a negative test should not have to observe self-isolation rules.
“I would personally distinguish between those that are living with someone who’s got Covid, and those that have been pinged because they’ve seen someone at work or whatever,” said Sir Keir.
“In my position, I’m acutely aware that our boy has actually got Covid and therefore theoretically could pass it on to any of the rest of us at any moment. So I personally wouldn’t put myself in a scheme like that.
“But where it’s not a family member that you’re living with, I think, then maybe we need to look at that again.”
He said he would not support industrial action by workers concerned at having to share their workplace with individuals who have been “pinged” but told they need not stay home.
“I don’t think that’s the right way,” said Sir Keir. “I think that if it is possible to show that with a double vaccination and a negative test critical workers can go back to work I would support that.
“Obviously we need to keep an eye on how safe it is, we need to be cautious. But we need to keep our critical sectors working and I think we should support exemptions that allow us to do that.”