Vaccine passports to be rolled out ‘within months’ — What are they and how do you get one?

Yesterday

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As the vaccine is rolled out across the U.K., it seems there is light at the end of the tunnel.

The U.K. has been in a third national lockdown since 5 January but a roadmap has been announced with shops and outdoor dining permitted from 12 April at the earliest, hotels and hostels re-opening from 17 May at the earliest and hopefully, all remaining restrictions being lifted by 21 June at the earliest.

Though this news is promising, travel both domestically and internationally will struggle to return to normal until the population is inoculated.

According to Sky News, more than 20 million people in the U.K. have now had their first coronavirus vaccine, a milestone that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called a “huge national achievement.”

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The vaccine is a clear way out of the pandemic and in order to allow travel to restart, both closer to home and abroad, a “vaccine passport” scheme is going to be rolled out. Previously, there had been some debate about whether or not the U.K. should implement it but the Minister for COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment Nadhim Zahawi has now confirmed vaccine passports will go ahead.

Here’s all you need to know about them.

What is a vaccine passport?

There’s no set definition of a vaccine passport, rather a concept. Simply put, it’s “evidence of your vaccination status in a form that will be accepted by your destination country or region to remove or reduce barriers to travel,” according to the Independent.

When implemented, it will allow people to prove their vaccination status and potentially travel abroad, depending on if the arrival country will consider it sufficient for entering its borders.

A number of countries, including Thailand, Estonia and Iceland, among others, have already said that they will welcome back travellers who are already vaccinated. We expect more countries to adopt similar policies in the coming weeks and months as vaccination programmes around the world continue to ramp up.

Related: Country-by-country guide to where you can go if you’re vaccinated

What do vaccine passports look like?

At this point, it’s unclear what a vaccine passport would like — especially in the U.K. However, if they are developed, they would most likely be in digital format.

Read more: Two more cruise lines announce vaccine requirement

(Photo by David Greedy/Getty Images)

How do I get a vaccine passport?

At the time of publication, there is no international agreement on how to get such a document yet — most countries are still in the discussion stages. But Zahawi said that the U.K. government is working towards a stage where “if there is a requirement, any viewer can then ask for their vaccine certificate.”

Despite some back and forth within the government about what ethical and privacy issues vaccine passports may present, Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps said on BBC 4’s Today programme previously that he “imagines” in the future “there will be an international system where countries will want to know that you have potentially been vaccinated or had tests taken before flying before you come in.”

Shapps also confirmed that the U.K. government is in talks with other governments about the move, including Singapore and the U.S.

“We are having discussions about those things to have an internationally recognised system… internationally, we are taking to ICAO about how best to ensure there are internationally recognised standards,” Shapps said.

Until an official plan around vaccine passports is put in place, the government has also said that your GP can provide proof of vaccination, if needed.

Secretary of State for Transport Grant Schapps. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images)

However, doctors have voiced their concerns about this, as it could mean too much paperwork and get in the way of being on the vaccine frontline.

“GPs are working really hard to get as many patients as possible vaccinated as safely and speedily as possible,” Chair of the Royal College of GPs Professor Martin Marshall told the Independent. “We cannot allow administration to get in their way.”

Either way, according to Sky News, ministers met on Friday to discuss “certifications” for people who have been vaccinated or tested negative for COVID-19.

When will the UK have vaccination passports?

Now that the decision has been made, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak confirmed on BBC One’s Andrew Marr programme that the U.K. could possibly have vaccine passports “within months.”

“Obviously it’s a complicated but potentially very relevant question for helping us reopen, particularly those parts of our country like mass events,” Sunak said. “That’s what the committee and the review will do, is work through all of those questions and come to a view in a few months’ time.”

Will there be an EU-wide vaccine passport?

There are plans in March for the European Commission to present a proposal for a digital vaccine passport across the EU so that travellers can travel more freely this summer.

Reuters reports that European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced the move in a speech on 1 March and also tweeted: “The aim is to gradually enable them to move safely in the European Union or abroad — for work or tourism.”

Despite the “digital green pass” being mass-marketed, the Commission also said that it will try to ensure that those who have not been vaccinated are not discriminated against.

Von der Leyen said last week that the 27-member EU countries expect to have had 70% of adults jabbed by the end of the summer, according to Reuters.

Will I need a vaccine passport for shops and supermarkets?

At the moment, no.

But, there’s been some confusion about this because Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs Dominic Raab told LBC Radio that needing a vaccine passport to go to the supermarket “hasn’t been ruled out” and is “under consideration.”

However, government sources have shut down this claim, saying it is “categorically not something we’re doing,” according to the Daily Mirror.

“That is not going to happen, and not something we are considering,” a No10 source said.

(Photo by d3sign/Getty Images)

Will I need a vaccine passport for pubs and the cinema?

No, you will not need a vaccine passport for domestic activities like going to the pub, Boris Johnson has confirmed.

While he did admit such a scheme was “inevitable” for international travel, similar to carrying proof you have been vaccinated against yellow fever, for example, Johnson added: “What I don’t think we will have in this country is — as it were — vaccination passports to allow you to go to, say, the pub or something like that.”

However, he has since admitted that there are “deep and complex issues that we need to explore” because “we can’t be discriminatory against people who, for whatever reason, can’t have the vaccine,” according to Sky News.

However, when it comes to cinemas specifically, there have been reports that a private company that has received government funding to develop vaccine passports has agreed to trial the technology with one cinema complex and theatre brand.

The Daily Telegraph reports that Verifiable Credentials would create electronic certificates, verified by the NHS, for people to prove they have been vaccinated. These certificates would be in digital format. Then, when customers buy a film ticket, it would be combined with the digital vaccine passport to generate a QR code that would provide them with access to the theatre.

A spokesperson for Verifiable Credentials said the move was just being tested currently for technical feasibility, not commercial.

Are any other countries using vaccine passports?

A number of other countries have vaccine passport plans in the pipeline.

Greece has said that Brits may be able to travel there with proof of vaccination as soon as May. Greece has formed a “vaccine bubble” with Cyprus and Israel, meaning vaccinated travellers can move between the three nations without quarantining.

“I expect what we will be doing with Israel to be a trial run of what we can do with other countries,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said.

Similarly, both Sweden and Denmark have said they are planning to develop “digital vaccine certificates,” designed to enable citizens to freely travel aboard.

The Swedish government plans to have the infrastructure in place by June. “With a digital vaccine certificate it will be quick and easy to prove a completed vaccination,” Sweden’s minister for digital development Anders Ygeman said in a statement.

Both nations have not confirmed that the passports will be used for purposes other than travel, such as cultural or sporting events, though the Danish government said that the passports would “contribute to a gradual, sound and appropriate reopening of Denmark.”

Meanwhile, the Spanish government has confirmed that a vaccine passport is something it will be using to restart tourism in 2021.

“The Balearic Islands has proposed to Spain’s central government that the archipelago becomes one of the first places where the vaccine passport is trialled,” the Balearic Islands’ Minister for Tourism Iago Negueruela told Telegraph Travel. “We are gradually reopening the economy, and we hope to kick start the tourism season in May. We are working hard behind the scenes to ensure a safe return to tourism so that we are ready for when British visitors are able to travel once more.”

Poland, Italy and the Czech Republic are also discussing vaccine passports.

Are any airlines doing something similar?

American Airlines is streamlining an app called VeriFLY from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store where passengers can select a destination, upload negative test results and then receive a QR code to show at an airport check-in counter.

Since 4 February, here in the U.K., select British Airways passengers headed to the U.S. will also have access to VeriFLY’s mobile health passport. Though the app currently just uses data about testing, it may be expanded to vaccination.

Featured photo by CasPhotography/Getty Images 

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