Vaccine passports which enable people who have had the coronavirus jab to travel abroad are being considered by the UK government and across the globe.
The government is considering introducing an international system – similar to the yellow fever card, which is required to enter countries such as Brazil and Uganda.
Cyprus has just announced it’ll allow vaccinated British tourists into the country from May 1 if they can prove it, without need for quarantine or testing. However, holidays abroad are banned until May 17 at the earliest and our government is yet to say if or how we’ll be able to prove we’ve been innoculated. Read more about Cyprus permitting innoculated UK residents for holidays.
What is a vaccine passport?
Currently UK travellers returning from high-risk countries are required to pay £1,750 to quarantine in a hotel. Those caught lying about their movements could face a £10,000 fine or 10 years in jail.
It is hoped the vaccine passport would allow people who have received their jabs to travel freely without the need for quarantine.
It is not currently known how the digital passport or certificate for the COVID-19 jab would work. This could be a mobile app, which stores personal health information, or a scannable QR code to show airline or border staff.
Other countries or airlines could be satisfied with a certificate or letter from your doctor, as long as it contains all the essential information.
Will vaccine passports be mandatory?
Most have welcomed the idea as the best way to kick-start travel again.
Greece and Israel already have digital vaccine certificates in place and Greece and Cyprus plan to admit those from Israel with COVID green certificates. Greece also has plans to allow Brits in this summer, either using a negative COVID-19 test or proof of a vaccination.
Iceland also plans to accept digital vaccine certificates from those in EU and Schengen countries, but it already will accept those who can prove they have antibodies with an antigen test. Most recently Cyprus has said it will allow Brits to enter from May 1 if they can prove they’ve been vaccinated. However, they’ve not said it’s mandatory. If the UK is on its green list it will allow you to enter with proof of a negative COVID-19 test too.
Whilst Spain, Denmark, Estonia, Sweden, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia and Czechia have talked about developing them. Whilst countries may be considering it, it doesn’t mean they plan to make the vaccine a requirement for travel, however.
But critics argue that a health passport will infringe civil liberties and restrict those who have refused a vaccine. Other have voiced concerns around data privacy and the protection of travellers’ personal information. A petition urging the government not to roll out the scheme has attracted more than 86,000 signatures.
While the UK government has suggested the passport would not be mandatory, other countries could still decide to make it an entry requirement – restricting travel to those deemed a transmission risk.
However, the UK could be at an advantage as it races ahead of mainland Europe – and most of the world – with its vaccine rollout. By this week, 16 million Brits are expected to have received their first dose.
Immunotourism around the world
The Seychelles was the first nation to announce it would welcome vaccinated travellers from across the world. And the Greek prime minister has said he could allow British holidaymakers to visit as early as May if they have received two doses of any approved jab.
Greece may also offer similar freedoms to people who can prove they have recovered from the virus. The pandemic has been devastating for the country, with tourism making up a fifth of its economy.
Countries including Iceland, Georgia and Poland have also lifted restrictions for those who can provide proof of vaccination.
If your destination has similar rules, details should be listed on the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) website. It’s not yet known whether producing a negative test result for coronavirus upon arrival will be sufficient for travellers who can’t or won’t have the jab.
Will vaccinations impact your holiday? Read more about your rights and how your travel insurance could be affected.
Compulsory vaccinations: Saga Holidays
Similarly, some airlines and holiday companies are trialling their own health passports to get travel moving again.
Last month, Saga announced that it requires all holiday and cruise customers to be fully vaccinated before travel. Only those who have received both jabs at least 14 days before departure, or the medically exempt, will be allowed to travel.
Passengers will also need to take a COVID test at the departure terminal. The over-50s provider, which has suspended all operations until 1 May, says 95% of its customers are in favour of the policy. And anyone who is unable, or unwilling, to get the COVID-19 vaccine can request a date change or a full refund.
Iata’s Travel Pass
Qantas will also demand proof that passengers have been fully vaccinated before travel, unless they are exempt for medical reasons.
The Australian airline is trialling the Travel Pass, developed by the International Air Transport Association (Iata). The contactless app will allow passengers to share COVID-19 health information with airlines and border authorities. Iata says the data will be sent by certified labs and test centres in a format that is secure.
However, travellers should expect to continue wearing masks and social distancing on flights, even after getting immunised.
It is no surprise that the carrier is taking a stringent approach. Australia’s borders have been closed to international travellers since March, with those returning home required to quarantine in a hotel for 14 days. The country has reported less than 30,000 confirmed cases as a result.
Singapore Airlines, Emirates, and Etihad Airways have also partnered with IATA’s Travel Pass, with Singapore Airlines planning to integrate the functionality into its own mobile app this summer.
British Airways trials VeriFLY
British Airways is the first UK airline to trial a travel health ‘passport’ which stores coronavirus test results and proof of vaccination.
The app, called VeriFLY, checks the passenger’s health information against the destination’s entry requirements and returns a ‘fail’ or ‘pass’ message.
It was rolled out on BA’s transatlantic routes on 4 February and is also being trialled by American Airlines. However, BA insists that use of the app is not mandatory.
Virgin Atlantic introduces CommonPass
Lufthansa, JetBlue, Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific have signed up for the CommonPass, after a successful trial by United Airlines.
The app, created by Swiss not-for-profit Commons Project Foundation and the World Economic Forum, allows travellers to upload their COVID-19 test results or proof of vaccination which generates a certificate in the form of a QR code.
The slogan for CommonPass is: ‘Share your current health status so you can safely return to travel and life.’ Again, it is thought to a voluntary scheme rather than a mandatory condition of boarding.
What about cruises?
Cruise lines are already insisting that passengers take a test before boarding and once on board. Which? Recommended Provider Viking Ocean Cruises says it expects to initially test both guests and crew on a daily basis.
It therefore seems likely that some cruise lines will consider making vaccines mandatory.
Celebrity and Royal Caribbean told us: ‘Guests must ensure they are medically and physically fit for travel…in many cases inoculations are recommended, but in some circumstances, they are required.’
Vaccines and travel insurance
No travel insurance policy covers disinclination to travel, so if vaccines become mandatory at your destination, you won’t be able to claim back the costs of your holiday if you decide to cancel.
Refusing a vaccine could also affect your emergency medical cover. Travel insurance policies sometimes contain exclusions relating to vaccinations. That means if you visit a country without getting the NHS-recommended inoculations, you may not be covered if you end up contracting the illness.
As far as we’re aware, no similar exclusions relating to the coronavirus vaccine have yet been added to travel insurance policies. But it’s something we could see in the coming weeks and months, as many travel insurers do now include cover for catching coronavirus while on holiday.
Should I book a holiday for summer 2021 or beyond?
It is not known how long current travel restrictions will last, meaning any new holiday booking remains risky. 2021 holidays: Is it safe to book a trip in the UK or abroad?