Pubs, clubs and restaurants are facing a chaotic start to “Freedom Day” amid confusion over the government’s voluntary Covid pass scheme.
Official guidance published on Friday encourages hospitality venues to check whether their customers have been fully vaccinated, have natural immunity or have had a negative test within the past 48 hours.
The NHS Covid pass verifier app – which is designed to scan QR codes proving someone’s Covid status – was finally released on Saturday, less than 48 hours before restrictions end on Monday.
Hospitality bosses have warned that the measures – if implemented – could create a “flashpoint” between customers and employees at a time when businesses are dealing with a workforce crisis – including a lack of security staff.
One pub landlord was bombarded with online abuse after he banned customers who had not received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
The Gardeners Arms in Norwich, Norfolk, is thought to be the first establishment in the country to introduce the rule, and was quickly targeted by anti-vaccine campaigners.
Landlord Philip Cutter also faced criticism from the civil liberties organisation Big Brother Watch, which placed the pub on its vaccine passport boycott list, along with Saga, P&O Cruises and Pimlico Plumbers.
Silkie Carlo, the group’s director, urged businesses not to implement the Covid pass scheme, describing it as “a leap towards an exclusionary, population-level digital ID system” and “safety theatre that makes no one safer”.
Trade body UK Hospitality said that checking the Covid status of customers would place further strain on businesses who were already struggling with a shortage of staff.
“Without an app it would be impossible to implement, but even with an app it will still be fairly difficult,” said strategic affairs director Tony Sophoclides told The Independent.
“Staff are already having to be the enforcers of current restrictions, and while the vast majority of customers are great, you get the odd one who causes problems and our staff are on the short end of it.
“There is a also huge shortage of security. We have had a workforce crisis anyway, and that’s before you have the pingdemic. It’s a difficult situation.”
Mr Sophoclides welcomed the government’s decision to make the Covid pass scheme voluntary but criticised the lack of specific guidance.
“The industry as a whole has invested billions as as a result these venues are probably the safest indoor spaces around,” he said. “Different venues have different measures in place and they are doing risk assessments.
“However, there are issues for government about civil liberties and people who don’t want to be vaccinated. What happens to people who can’t have a vaccination?
“If it was legally mandatory there would be some real issues, as 58 per cent of the workforce are under 35 and so won’t have been double jabbed. And that’s before you get to the fact that hospitality rely on that age group as custom.
“Just as we are coming out of the lockdown, it would be pulling the rug out from under hospitality.”
Pubs, clubs and restaurants across the country are now being left to decide exactly which measures they keep in their venues from 19 July.
Some venues, such as the Dalston Superstore club in east London, are introducing Covid pass checks that require customers to show proof of vaccination via the standard NHS app, their vaccination card or an official letter, or proof of a negative test within the past 48 hours.
The Inn Collection Group said it would “take a phased approach to the return to normal to reassure our guests and teams” at its venues despite the lifting of all restrictions, while the Wetherspoon pub chain said it would still offer track and trace facilities if people wanted to use it.
“We are not compelling people to use the NHS app or asking people if they have been vaccinated or anything like that,” said the pub chain’s spokesperson Eddie Gershon
Martin Caffrey, operations director of the Federation of Licensed Victuallers Associations, said: “It will be a comfort for customers at certain outlets to know that they are in a secure as an environment as is possible, although we know that is not possible to eliminate all risk.
“But there could be problems with people getting around it with fake vaccination cards and it could be a laborious task on the door to get people to produce their smart phones and go into their NHS app.”