Just hours after the nightclubs were able to reopen yesterday for the first time in over a year, the government announced that Covid certification will become mandatory for 'crowded venues' from the end of September.
In a press briefing, Boris Johnson said proof of a negative test will no longer be enough and that "some of life's most important pleasures and opportunities are likely to be increasingly dependent on vaccination".
He said: "We're also concerned, as they are in other countries, about the continuing risk of nightclubs. I don't want to have to close nightclubs again as they have elsewhere, but it does mean nightclubs need to do the socially responsible thing and make use of the NHS Covid pass…
"By the end of September when all over 18s will have had their chance to be double jabbed, we're planning to make full vaccination the condition of entry to nightclubs and other venues where large crowds gather. Proof of a negative test will no longer be enough."
When asked if the measure could be introduced in other hospitality venues such as pubs, the Johnson said, "I certainly don't want to see passports for pubs", but added that the government "reserve a right to do what's necessary to protect the public".
The prime minister also commented on concerns regarding the numbers of people going into self-isolation due to being ‘pinged' by NHS Test and Trace, which could see up to a third of the hospitality workforce having to isolate.
Johnson said the food supply chain will be protected by allowing a "very small number" of "named, fully vaccinated, critical workers" are able to leave their isolation for this purpose. However, for the vast majority, the system will continue.
Just two weeks ago both the health secretary Sajid Javid and Boris Johnson said that ‘vaccine passports' would not be required to enter hospitality venues after a review into Covid-status certification recommended that the government abandon the idea, as it would "place new burdens and costs on those industries which have already suffered significantly", would have a "serious impact on businesses and individuals" and could even infringe rights and be discriminatory.
Last week, the government then said in published guidance that it "reserved the right" to force venues to require certification in "at a later date if necessary" and the prime minister urged nightclubs and venues with large crowds to make use of the certification, without making it mandatory.
Industry bosses warned such checks would be difficult to enforce and discriminate against younger people who have not yet been fully vaccinated and form the majority of their audience.
Sacha Lord, Night-Time Economy Adviser for Greater Manchester, said the "whole industry" had been taken by surprise by the announcement.
He said: "I am not a scientist or a doctor, but I am deeply concerned by the discriminatory nature for those who either can't have the vaccine for medical reasons or age, or who do not want to. Surely these answers should have been given at the same time as this announcement.
"Where does this leave festivals or live music events catering specifically for teenagers or children who aren't being vaccinated? Does this now mean young people, who have already suffered hugely during this pandemic, now won't be able to experience the thrill of seeing their favourite artist on stage? With this one move, the government appears to have wiped out live gigs for a whole generation.
"Lastly, there are obvious questions over how these checks will be enforced, and regarding the financial impact on the sectors. How will nightclubs now compete against pubs and bars down the road where these restrictions aren't needed, or attract punters who can just as easily have a house party without these enforcements in place."
He added: "I have been in the nightlife and events industry for over 25 years, but I cannot see any reason why anyone would now want to enter this sector with such financially damaging restrictions in place."
UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said it was a "hammer blow" on the day nightclubs were "finally given hope that they could start to trade viably and make progress toward rebuilding and paying off accrued debts".
She said: "Covid passports will be a costly burden that run the risk of creating flashpoints between staff and customers, as well as raising potential issues with equalities legislation and the handling of customer data. As recently as last week the government asked us to work with them on a voluntary scheme, so this new policy is devastating and risks hitting these fragile businesses and derailing their recovery and costing thousands of jobs."
Peter Marks, chief executive of Rekom UK, added: "To say we are disappointed by this government's U-turn is an understatement. Jonathan Van Tam's talk of his party in his garden shed shows how little this government and their scientists understand the modern club.
"Nightclubs have the best air ventilation systems in hospitality, retail and most other settings - with air changes on average every five minutes. Who else does that? We can sanitise and clean just like any other venue and there is no difference between a club and most pubs at midnight. It should be down to individual risk assessments in line with the specialist scientific advice we have received.
"We are no more than a political football. Mandatory Covid passports may make sense one day once the entire adult population has been offered vaccines, but does government really think this threat will entice the ‘vaccine wary' to take the vaccine? They will just stay later in the pubs and hold their parties in their houses."