Vaccine passports for travel: everything you need to know
What are Covid vaccine passports for travel?
As the name suggests, this would be proof that the holder has been vaccinated against Covid, allowing them to move freely between countries once more. It’s an idea that’s been kicking around for a while, but with the rising numbers of British people being vaccinated it’s one that’s gathering momentum as the government looks at ways of easing lockdown and returning to normal. Both Sweden and Denmark recently announced they were developing digital immunity passports – which could in theory be used not only for travel but for entry to sporting and cultural events. Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt told Radio 4 that it was ‘a very sensible policy and I know that the government is looking at how that might work’.
Would it be like a normal passport?
No, it would be in the form of a secure digital app that can be quickly checked.
What has the government said about vaccine passports for travel?
There’s been some back and forth between various ministers. Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi initially ruled out the possibility in early February, saying it would be ‘discriminatory’, but Health Secretary Matt Hancock then went on to say it was something the government was looking into with other countries. Since then, Zahawi told BBC Breakfast in mid-February: ‘If other countries will require a vaccine certificate then I think it’s right that we facilitate it. People already when they travel they have to have, for certain countries, a yellow fever certificate. So if there is a requirement, any viewer can then ask for their vaccine certificate, in the way that we do pre-departure test certificates now.’ On 23 February, Boris Johnson told reporters that some countries would, in the future, certainly require proof of immunity: ‘It’s going to come on the international stage, whatever.’
When might vaccine passports for travel be introduced?
There’s no date yet, and while the government initially rejected the idea, on Sunday 14 February the foreign secretary Dominic Raab said they were under consideration. In January 2021 it was revealed that the UK government had been funding various passport schemes, which look at the tech and biometric security involved. And in late February it was reported that a digital vaccine passport, developed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), could be ready ‘within weeks’.
What’s the response been?
Obviously, the travel industry and airlines are very keen for people to get moving again, as soon as it’s safe and realistic to do so. Back in 2020, Australian airline Qantas said that, in the future, it would only carry passengers holding a vaccine certificate, while cruise and tour operator Saga said it would only accept customers who had been vaccinated. Destinations reliant on tourism are also keen for vaccine passports to be introduced, with some – such as Greece – calling for a standardised EU certificate to replace the current negative-Covid test one. Greece is even in talks with the UK government to potentially arrange a travel agreement which could allow Brits who have been vaccinated to enter the country as part of a ‘vaccine passport scheme’ in time for a ‘semi-normal summer’ 2021, according to Greek Minister for Tourism Haris Theoharis when he was interviewed on BBC Radio 4 in mid-February.
Some civil-liberties groups and others have showed concern, however, arguing that it would normalise identity checks and create a ‘health apartheid’. Others question whether this could be coordinated on an international scale, as countries would have varying degrees of vaccination – and it’s unknown whether those who have had the vaccine can still spread it to others.
This article is being continuously updated as soon as more details emerge.
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