Covid vaccine passports UK: plans for health certificates explained - and when foreign travel can resume

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The UK government has confirmed plans to introduce coronavirus passports “as soon as possible”

Holidays abroad are expected to be allowed from late next month as part of the next phase in easing lockdown restrictions across the UK.

International travel is expected to resume from 17 May at the earliest if the roadmap continues according to plan, but will be dependent on various factors, includng if Covid cases continue to fall, the success of the vaccine rollout, and the risk of coronavirus variants.

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However, the possibility of foreign holidays has been given hope after the government confirmed coronavirus passports will be made available “as soon as possible”.

The passport would  indicate a person’s vaccination status or a negative Covid testThe passport would  indicate a person’s vaccination status or a negative Covid test
The passport would indicate a person’s vaccination status or a negative Covid test

Here’s what you need to know about the plans for resuming travel, and how Covid passports will work.

How would the passports work?

Coronavirus passports, also known as a health certificate, will enable UK holidaymakers to enter foreign countries by showing proof of a Covid vaccination or a recent negative test.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said a domestic Covid passport which indicates a person’s vaccination status or a negative coronavirus test will “definitely” play a role in international travel.

Under the plans, vaccine passports are expected to show:

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if an individual has received a Covid-19 vaccine if an individual has recently tested negative for Covid-19 if an individual has “natural immunity” having tested positive for Covid-19 in the previous six months

The Prime Minister has said that the passports “will be useful” within the UK, with Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden also suggesting that vaccine passports could also be used “in the short term” to reopen theatres and sports stadiums”.

The government has not yet confirmed a date when the passports will be introduced for travel, but said work is being done on this “as a priority”.

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “We are working on a solution to enable residents to prove their Covid-19 status, including vaccination status, to other countries on the outbound leg.

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“We are working on this as a priority and intend to have the solution ready as soon as possible.”

The Daily Telegraph reported that a government official told travel industry leaders in the Tourism Industry Emergency Response Group: “We aim to give people the ability to prove their vaccine status by the time international travel restarts where other countries require it.”

The passports would initially only be available for people travelling abroad, and a wider scheme for domestic use is unlikely to be ready by next month, according to the newspaper.

However, the Transport Select Committee warned that the resumption of international travel is in jeopardy with “vague and costly” proposals not enough to reboot the aviation and tourism sectors.

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It said a report produced by the government’s Global Travel Taskforce gave “insufficient” detail to allow businesses and travellers to prepare for holidays to safely resume on 17 May.

Officials are working with clinical and ethical experts to ensure there are “appropriate exemptions” for people who are advised not to get the vaccine and for whom repeat testing would be difficult, while the NHS is also working on ways of providing people with the means to demonstrate their Covid status through “digital and non-digital routes”.

Ministers have insisted that the Covid certificates will never be required for essential services, including supermarkets, public transport, or GP surgeries.

Certification is also not expected to apply to businesses, meaning people will not be expected to have a vaccine passport to enter pubs, restaurants and non-essential retail.

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What about in other parts of the UK?

The Scottish government is considering making digital "certificates" available to people who have had the Covid-19 vaccine, although it has not yet been decided in what circumstances these would be used.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that vaccine passports “should be looked at” in Scotland and confirmed that the Scottish government is “thinking about it”.

In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said that there is potential in introducing vaccine passports, but there are still some large challenges to overcome.

Mr Drakeford said the Welsh government is continuing to work on the issue of vaccine certification with ministers from the other UK nations.

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The UK government said it was working with the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to seek a "consistent approach".

When will foreign holidays be allowed?

Under current plans, the earliest date when people living in England, Scotland and Wales will be able to holiday abroad is 17 May.

However, this will be dependent on various factors, including the number of Covid-19 cases across the country and the success of the coronavirus vaccine rollout.

Northern Ireland has not yet confirmed its plans for holidays and travel, but chief medical office Dr Michael McBride has said it would be “premature” to book a foreign summer trip.

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Do ministers support the plans?

A broad coalition of MPs and peers have signed a pledge opposing the “divisive and discriminatory” use of Covid status certification, saying the plans would deny individuals access to general services, businesses or jobs.

More than 70 MPs, including 40 Conservatives and six ex-Cabinet ministers, as well as peers from the House of Lords have launched a campaign to oppose the move.

The pledge has been signed by former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Conservative former leader Sir Iain Duncan-Smith, Labour former shadow chancellor John McDonnell and ex-Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, along with a string of Tory former ministers, including Esther McVey, Nus Ghani, Mark Harper and Harriett Baldwin.

Tory MP Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the 1922 Committee and is also a signatory to the pledge, insisted the aim should be to return to normal life.

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“Covid-Status Certification would be divisive and discriminatory,” he said.

“With high levels of vaccination protecting the vulnerable and making transmission less likely, we should aim to return to normal life, not to put permanent restrictions in place.”

The campaign has been backed by Big Brother Watch, Liberty, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) and Privacy International.

However, the government has insisted no final decisions have been taken on whether Covid-status certification could play a role in reopening the economy.

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A spokeswoman said: “The review is considering a range of issues, including the ethical, equalities, privacy, legal and operational aspects and what limits, if any, should be placed on organisations using certification.”

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