Tim Martin, head of Wetherspoon, said vaccination cards are “the last straw” for struggling pubs and are forcing bar staff into a “bitter civil war over civil liberties” with customers.
Conservative backers, tax collectors and some scientists have raised concerns about the possible introduction of coronavirus health certificates as England’s lockdown is eased.
Ministers are investigating its potential use where access to venues might only be granted if customers have been encountered through previous infections, received negative tests, or developed antibodies.
Minister of Culture Oliver Dowden argued on Sunday that vaccination records will not be introduced “permanently”, but could be a useful tool for restarting safely at short notice.
However, in a letter in the Telegraph, Mr. Martin said, “There is no justification for a passport system.”
The pub chain chairman said, “For many pubs that have been devastated by the G-Force change of direction for their lives, a complex and controversial pass scheme would be the last straw.
“It would inevitably put the pub staff on the front lines of a bitter civil rights war, as some customers are unwilling to be vaccinated or cannot get a sting for medical reasons.”
Mr Dowden, whose roles include theaters where certificates may be used to relax social distancing, had insisted that “we need to look at all options” to safely relax restrictions.
“Of course we’d never try to do this permanently. It’s just that it could be a short-term tool,” he told the Andrew Marr Show on BBC One.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said he was ready to consider using them provided they were “fair and reliable”.
“I think there are definitely prizes that can be won domestically by certifying vaccines, but there are also very big practical and ethical challenges,” he told Marr.
Professor Mark Woolhouse, a member of the government’s Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviors (Spi-B), said the use of passports must be considered “with security” to make life safe after the lockdown.
“For those activities that are difficult to do completely safe – I think of things like nightclubs, big concerts, mass gatherings – this is where passports come into play, whether it’s vaccination cards, negative test passes or even immunity passes,” he said Marr.
However, his Spi-B colleague Professor Stephen Reicher said Saturday that certificates add to hesitation among those already skeptical about vaccines and therefore could be counterproductive by causing lower uptake.
He also warned that they could lead to “social division”.
Pub landlords this week turned down Boris Johnson’s suggestion that it might be up to them to decide whether to check customers’ certificates upon entry.
The Prime Minister recognized the “moral complexities” of a domestic vaccination passport program, which the government will provide further details on in early April.
A Whitehall source said a possibility is being considered that landlords might be able to eliminate social distancing if they check Covid health certificates upon entry.
The move would allow them to work at a much higher capacity and could be a powerful incentive for them to join the program.