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Will I need a Covid-19 vaccine or the NHS app to travel in 2021?

Evidence of vaccines vital for some airlines, holidays and cruises, while reducing the number and cost of tests in destinations like France, Greece and Cyprus

Will I need a Covid-19 vaccine or the NHS app to travel in 2021?

Vaccinations will not be necessary at most destinations, but mandatory for many cruises, some tours and a handful of flights this summer.

Greece, Spain and Portugal have said UK travellers won’t need to be vaccinated for travel this summer. However, if you have not been vaccinated you will have to submit to Covid-19 tests and therefore face increased costs. 

The UK government has said it is developing the NHS app to provide proof of vaccination at airports and borders. This will be your vaccine passport. It’s not yet clear exactly how this will work and if it is interoperable with the EU’s digital green certificate.

Find out more about how the traffic light system for travel will work this summer

How will the NHS app and vaccine passports work?

The government hasn’t detailed exactly how the app will work. We know it will use the main NHS app, rather than the test and trace app. 

For some people your vaccination status will automatically be uploaded to the app, but others may need to request their GP add your details – and this may take time. This is an issue in relation to permissions with health records. 

The app is free, but it won’t work on some older smartphones. The NHS says ‘older models of Apple (iPhone 5S and iPhone 6/6Plus or earlier) and Android phones that do not support iOS 13.5 or Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) and higher will not be able to use the app.

The government has yet to suggest it is developing a solution for those without a smartphone. 

We also don’t know when the app will be ready to launch. Crucially, the government will need to strike agreements with other countries to accept the app. The key agreement will be with the EU and its digital green certificate passport.

How will vaccine passports work when travelling to Europe?

The European Union has set out how it plans for a bloc wide vaccine passport to work. It’s called the Digital Green Certificate. It is for EU nationals, but the EU has said it wants to work with and accept interoperable systems – that should include the NHS app.

The EU’s plan sees details stored on passengers’ mobile phone, or they can request a paper version, but both will feature a QR code. This code will contain all essential information (such as test results and vaccine certificates) as well as a digital seal and secure key. 

When scanned, the person checking the code will be notified if it’s authentic and has been issued by a valid issuing body – such as a hospital or test centre. It is important to note the European Commission says when your code is checked through the specially built gateway, no personal data will pass through this. 

Additionally, your data cannot be retained in the countries you visit. Data being exposed or shared has been a key reason for people opposing vaccine passports. Read more on the EU’s Digital Green Certificate plans.

Other countries or airlines could be satisfied with a certificate or letter from your doctor, as long as it contains all the essential information.

Can I go on holiday if I haven’t had the vaccine?

Probably, yes. It will depend where you are going and how – some airlines, holiday companies and cruise lines have made vaccines mandatory. However, several European and Caribbean countries have already said they will accept negative tests in lieu of a vaccine. 

Greece, Spain and Portugal have all suggested they will reopen to UK travellers who can either provide evidence of vaccination or a negative Covid test. 

Some other countries are likely to still require you to take one or more tests even if you have been vaccinated, because vaccination reduces but doesn’t remove the chance of transmission. 

You will also have to take two tests when returning to the UK from green list countries and three for amber list countries, whether you have had the jab or not.

Will airlines require vaccination to board a flight? 

In most cases, no. Ryanair, EasyJet and British Airways are not planning to introduce mandatory vaccination status. They will, however,  be required to enforce the entry requirements of the destination you are travelling to – so if you are traveling to a country that requires vaccination or a test, you won’t be able to board the plane unless you can provide this evidence. 

Things are different outside of Europe. Some airlines have indicated that vaccinations will be required to travel, such as Australian airline Qantas.

Will cruise lines and holiday companies require vaccination? 

Saga is the first large holiday company to announce it will require all customers on holidays and cruises to have been vaccinated. It has taken the decision off the back of a customer survey that showed that clients overwhelmingly supported the policy. Passengers will also need to take a COVID test at the departure terminal. 

Almost all other cruise lines have followed suit; including, Cunard, P&O and Disney. In most cases it is only adults who need the vaccine.

What if I can’t have the vaccine and I’ve already booked a holiday?

Under the Package Travel Regulations, travel companies (including cruise liners) are required by law to tell you about the health and safety requirements at your destination. So they have to inform you if you need to provide proof of Covid-19 inoculation. But they aren’t required to offer you a refund if you book, and subsequently refuse the vaccine.

If there’s a medical reason for doing so and you have evidence of this from your doctor, you may still be allowed into the country. For yellow fever, for example, GPs can issue a medical exemption form that’s typically accepted.

But if you choose not to have the vaccine, whether on medical grounds or for another reason, and decide not to go on the holiday as a result, this is likely to be considered ‘disinclination to travel’, and standard terms and conditions apply if you choose to cancel.

If you’re unable to be vaccinated against Covid-19, you may want to hold off on booking a holiday for 2021 until the situation is clearer.

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 cancelling your holiday if you decide not to go.

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, for example, you may not be covered if you end up getting a disease the vaccine would have protected against.

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.

Coronavirus travel insurance: who will cover me?

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