Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain offered a first detailed glimpse of what a post-pandemic society in England might look like on Monday, announcing free twice-weekly coronavirus tests and Covid status certificates that would allow people with immunity into crowded nightclubs and sporting events.
The plans were the next step in the British government’s cautious reopening of the economy, and its first effort to tackle thorny questions about how to distinguish between people who are protected against the virus and those who are still vulnerable, as the country edges back toward normalcy.
“I will be going to the pub myself and cautiously but irreversibly raising a pint of beer to my lips,” Mr. Johnson said at a news conference at 10 Downing Street, as he listed the next round of relaxed restrictions.
Trying to strike a balance between public health and personal liberties, he said Britain would design a system to certify the Covid status of anyone seeking to enter higher-risk settings. While pubs and nonessential shops might be allowed to demand proof of Covid-free status, they will not be required to do so.
Britain has long resisted the idea of requiring people to carry identity documents, and for some in the country, this issue carries authoritarian overtones. The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, recently suggested that Covid “passports” could be against the “British instinct.”
Mr. Johnson acknowledged the sensitivities and pointed out that the certification plan would not be rolled out for a few months. The government plans to test the program in pilot locations, from a comedy club and nightclub in Liverpool to the FA Cup soccer final at Wembley Stadium.
“You’ve got to be very careful in how you handle this,” he said, “and don’t start a system that is discriminatory.”
Starting next week, the prime minister said nonessential shops, hairdressers and beer gardens in pubs would be allowed to reopen. But he was far more cautious about foreign travel, declining to say whether the government would stick to its earlier target of May 17 for lifting a ban on overseas vacations.
Britain plans to classify countries according to a traffic light system, with visitors from green countries not required to isolate themselves, visitors from amber countries required to isolate at home for several days, and those from red countries required to continue quarantining in hotels.
With more than 31 million people having gotten at least one vaccine “jab,” and the country still largely in lockdown, Britain has dramatically driven down its new cases, hospital admissions and deaths from the virus. As a result, Mr. Johnson’s focus has shifted to managing a steadily more open society.
Among his most ambitious plan is to offer free rapid testing kits to the entire population, so people can test themselves routinely. The kits, already used by hospitals and schools, will be available by mail or at pharmacies.