Since June 2016, when the UK voted to leave the European Union, there has been much talk about passports in the press, and the value of a British passport in a post-Brexit era. Yet, just five years later, the red vs blue debate seems to have abated and now the hottest ticket out of the country is not a traditional travel document, it’s a digital vaccine certificate or, as they’re more commonly known, a vaccine passport.
Although developments are being made hourly (if not more often!) in the fight against coronavirus, at the time of writing, the UK is set to re-open international travel for non-essential purposes from 17th May 2021. Essential travel — which is travel for work or other legally permitted purposes – is currently allowed but with safety precautions in place for travellers upon their return to the UK.
At present, those returning to the UK must follow the necessary guidance dependent on where they have travelled from. All are required to take two Covid-19 tests upon their arrival: one on or before day two, to monitor levels of virus variants entering the country, and one on day eight to ensure no infection is present. Such tests cannot be sourced from the NHS and must be purchased from other companies, such as Medicspot, who specialise in coronavirus testing to promote safety for those travelling.
Overseas travel back on the agenda
Come 17th May, when it is expected that the British government will permit overseas travel, it does not mean that tourists will be able to journey as freely as they once could. All countries will be ranked according to a traffic light list – red, amber and green – which will indicate the quarantine measures if any, required upon travellers’ return to the UK; as well as specific advice for each. However, what is not to be underestimated or forgotten is the restrictions other countries will be putting in place for the safety of not just their international visitors, but also their own population.
This is where a digital vaccine certificate, or vaccine passport, is expected to come into play. Having a full ‘two-jab’ coronavirus vaccine is currently the best possible indication of protection from being infected with the coronavirus, as well as a lesser potential to pass it on to others; it is highly likely that authorities in foreign countries will want to give priority to fully vaccinated people. Short of issuing every vaccinated person in the world with a paper certificate (which could be easily lost or stolen, and be vulnerable to forgery), it is expected that most countries will issue citizens with a digital proof of vaccination instead.
How a digital vaccine certificate will work?
In the UK, the British government has confirmed that a vaccine certificate will become part of an update to the existing NHS app. This is not the Track and Trace app but a separate app that allows for the ordering of repeat prescriptions, the viewing of medical records and request GPs appointments (although not all GPs have yet implemented these systems). It is recommended that anyone intending to travel abroad downloads the NHS app two weeks in advance of travel; and for those without a smartphone or device on which to access it, a physical paper letter can be requested.
Exactly how the digital vaccine certificate will work at border control will be dependent on the preference of each country and territory, but it may be that travellers are required to display their vaccine status, stipulated on the app, at check-in for flights, buses, trains or boats, at passport control or at the time of booking their travel. Similarly (though not yet confirmed), it is expected there will be a record available for those who are medically unable to have the vaccination to prove their exemption.
When will digital vaccine passport technology go live?
The British government has confirmed they expect the NHS app with a vaccine certificate feature to go ‘live’ on 17th May 2021; the very same day people are meant to be permitted to travel internationally again.
Which countries will be accepting a digital NHS vaccine certificate is yet to be confirmed but it is recommended that travellers check directly with their travel agent or online before they book their journey. Although countries have yet to confirm individually their own entry requirements, it is expected that the European Union will accept digital confirmation as France is currently trialing a similar system on an app that will be universally accepted across the EU bloc.
How to register for the digital vaccination certificate?
It’s simple: get vaccinated! Those who have had both doses of their vaccination through the NHS will have this entered in their medical records, which will feed through directly to the NHS app and prompt the vaccine certificate feature to work within the app. There will be no need for any other interaction or manual input.
Download the app, sync your data and enjoy a long summer of safe travel. Happy holidaying!