The NHS app could be used to display vaccination status or latest coronavirus test results, as ministers consider the ethical issues surrounding the possible introduction of vaccine passports.
Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that he has tasked senior minister Michael Gove with leading a review into the “deep and complex issues” surrounding “Covid status certificates”.
But it was understood that the “proper review” will also investigate whether businesses such as pubs and theatres could be prohibited from making access conditional on vaccination alone.
Current thinking was that customers required to by venue owners may be able to use the NHS Covid-19 app to prove that they have either received a jab or a recent negative test, and therefore be granted entry.
Combining the two events was understood to be one option being considered by ministers to avoid discriminating against those who decline the jab for health, or other, reasons.
The review came as the Prime Minister said he was “very optimistic” he will be able to fully remove all of England’s restrictions on June 21, but warned “nothing can be guaranteed”.
And First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said people needed to keep an open mind to the possibility of vaccine passports, as she set out her plans for easing Scotland’s lockdown.
Senior officials, including the vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi, have frequently appeared to dismiss the idea of introducing vaccine passports in the UK.
During a visit to a school on Tuesday, Mr Johnson acknowledged that “fervent libertarians” will reject the idea, but said others will “think there’s a case for it”.
The Prime Minister said there may be medical reasons why people cannot be vaccinated, or may be “mistaken” others who refuse to receive a jab.
“We can’t be discriminatory against people who for whatever reason can’t have the vaccine,” Mr Johnson said, at Sedgehill Academy, in Lewisham, south-east London.
He added that Mr Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, will lead a review “getting the best scientific, moral, philosophical, ethical viewpoints on it and will work out a way forward”.
Ms Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament that she would “never support something that deepens social inequalities” or “took away people’s civil liberties” based on their medical history.
But she added: “We should think properly, without closing our minds at this stage, to what a vaccine passport or certificate might offer us.”
Detailing her own road map for Scotland, Ms Sturgeon said she expected the stay-at-home order to remain in place until April 5, but indicated more children could return to classrooms from March 15.
She suggested the ban on communal worship may be lifted in time for Easter and Passover, and that “if all goes according to plan” the economy could begin reopening from April 26 in a phased strategy.
But she said she did not want to give “arbitrary” dates, stopping short of giving the level of detail Mr Johnson did, and plans to set out more in mid-March.
Mr Johnson on Tuesday urged the nation to be “prudent” by continuing to follow the rules after publishing his four-stage plan to gradually lift the third national lockdown over the coming months.
Facing criticism from some Tory MPs over the pace of change, the Prime Minister said he was “hopeful” that all legal controls can be removed on the final date earmarked in his four-step plan.
Having insisted that he will be led by “data not dates”, the Prime Minister expressed optimism that relaxations will be complete by June 21, as tentatively scheduled in his road map, when nightclubs could reopen and large-scale events resume.
“I’m very optimistic that we’ll be able to get there,” he added.
Mr Johnson is facing pressure to extend financial support packages including the furlough scheme to help people and businesses through the exit strategy.
He insisted that Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Budget next week will be a “Budget for jobs and to protect people throughout the pandemic and beyond”.
In the first step of Mr Johnson’s plans, all pupils are expected to return to class from March 8, with wider use of face masks and testing in secondaries.
Socialising in parks and public spaces with one other person will also be permitted from that date.
A further easing will take place on March 29, when the school Easter holidays begin, with larger groups of up to six people or two households allowed to gather in parks and gardens.
But progressing along the schedule will depend on meeting four tests: the success of the vaccine rollout, evidence of vaccine efficacy, an assessment of new variants, and keeping infection rates below a level that could put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.
In Scotland and Wales, the phased return of children to classes began on Monday, with Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford suggesting stay-at-home orders could be eased in around three weeks.
In Northern Ireland, First Minister Arlene Foster has promised a “decision-making framework” on how the executive plans to exit lockdown will be published on March 1.
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