Vaccine passport: What are they, how will they work and when could they be used in the UK?

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  • As lockdown restrictions begin to ease and a return to ‘normal’ life feels like a possibility there is one question that keeps coming up  – whether we’ll need a vaccine passport or not.

    Under the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, gyms and swimming pools are reopening soon, along with pubs, restaurants, hairdressers, nail salons and the rest of the hospitality industry. While there’s no news on changes to the travel rules just yet, so 2021 summer holidays are uncertain, the rules on how many people can meet up outdoors have changed twice already.

    However, could further freedoms only be available to those with a so-called vaccine passport? Recent government discussion have made this question a possibility. 

    What is a vaccine passport?

    A vaccine passport – or Covid status certification – is a document that shows whether someone has received the coronavirus vaccine, had a negative test or has contracted and recovered from coronavirus in the past six months. 

    The details of the scheme haven’t been made public yet but it’s thought that the NHS is working on a system that could include both digital and physical vaccine passports. 

    If approved, they could allow people to go on holiday without quarantining on their return to the UK, as well as access mass gatherings such as concerts and sporting events. There have also been discussions about whether pubs and restaurants would be allowed to only accept customers with vaccine passports.

    What are the UK plans for vaccine passports?

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at a press conference on Monday April 5 that the UK was “some way off finalising any plans” for vaccine passports. 

    He said, “On Covid status certification, as we prefer to call it, the most important thing to say to everybody listening and watching is there’s absolutely no question of people being asked to produce certification or a Covid status report when they go to shops or to the pub garden or to their hairdressers or whatever on Monday [April 12].

    “And indeed we are not planning that for stage three either, May 17. As you know we are hoping to go for the opening up of indoor hospitality and so on. We are not planning for anything of that kind at that stage.” 

    People enjoying the sunshine in a pub garden in London

    Boris has said people will not need a vaccine passport to visit a shop or pub garden. (Credit: Getty)

    The potential vaccine passport scheme has received a mixed response so far from the public and MPs.

    Labour MPs were told recently that the party would be voting down any ideas for compulsory vaccine passports in shops or pubs. A long list of Conservative ministers have also already rebelled against the Prime Minister and signed a cross-party letter opposing the idea, ahead of the upcoming Commons vote.

    However, according to a recent Ipsos MORI survey, 78% of people are in favour of vaccine passports in a variety of scenarios, such as for travelling abroad, for visiting relatives in hospital or in care homes. There was also support for compulsory vaccine passports to go to the pub, to eat out in a restaurant and to go to the gym. 

    Will vaccine passports be compulsory?

    The government have said that there will always be settings where vaccine passports would not be compulsory – including in essential shops and on public transport. 

    They have also said that there will be exemptions for those “for whom vaccination is not advised and repeat testing is difficult”. This could include pregnant women, for example, as the current advice is to avoid the Covid vaccination during pregnancy.

    Vaccine passports may be compulsory in some scenarios, such as for travelling abroad.

    However, the idea that a vaccine passport would be compulsory in at least some settings has been criticised. some MPs for being “dangerous, discriminatory and counterproductive”.

    Will I need a vaccine passport to travel abroad?

    Yes, it’s likely that a vaccine passport will be needed to travel abroad in the coming year. 

    Covid certification, including proof of a negative coronavirus test, is already part of the requirements for either leaving the UK or coming home. 

    Young couple getting onto a plane, following the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine passports

    Credit: Getty

    The government expects this to continue, especially as a third wave is currently sweeping across many countries in Europe, and is reportedly looking at ways of making this certification digital. 

    Which countries are using vaccine passports already?

    South Korea, Israel, Cyprus, Greece, Sweden and Denmark all are set to require vaccine passports for either inter-regional or international travel in the coming months. 

    South Korea’s mobile app, which will allow people to come into the country from abroad, will officially be launching later in April. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun outlined plans for the rollout recently and said, “The introduction of a vaccine passport or ‘Green Pass’ will only allow those who have been vaccinated to experience the recovery to their daily lives”. 

    Cyprus are welcoming Brits who’ve had two jabs into the country from May 1, without needing a negative test or having to quarantine. Similarly, Greece is set to admit all Covid-negative tourists from Israel using their “green” digital vaccine certificate, under plans negotiated between the two countries. 

    Denmark’s ‘Coronapas’ is the vaccine passport that all residents will need to travel internally from Easter, but it could be rolled out later as a key tool for international travel. Those using the Coronapas will have to show proof of vaccination, earlier infection or a recent negative test to access hairdressers, restaurants, cinemas and other venues from May 17. 

    Smiling man using phone in airport after receiving the vaccine passport

    Credit: Getty

    For those living in Israel, the “Green Pass” is available to anyone who has been fully vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19 recently. The country has the highest vaccination take-up in the world, with more than half the country already completely inoculated. 

    When could Covid passports be used in the UK?

    It has not been confirmed if vaccine passports will be used in the UK yet. Therefore, no date has been proposed for when Covid passports could be used (if the plan is rolled out) in the country. 

    How do I get a vaccine passport?

    At the moment, you can’t. Early reports suggest that the Covid certification will be made available on the NHS app, a lesser-used app than the one associated with Track and Trace. This application is normally used to help people access health services in England. 

    However, the system hasn’t been set-up yet. Before any compulsory vaccine passport systems can be rolled out, there needs to be a vote on it by ministers in the House of Commons. 

    Following this, more information will be made available on whether the vaccine passport programme will go ahead and where people will be able to access one.