Will you have to prove you’ve had the coronavirus vaccine before getting on a plane in the future? How about going to the pub? Or staying in a UK hotel?
These are all questions Brits might have as more and more countries announce plans to introduce vaccine passports, with speculation they could be used to open up domestic leisure activities, as well as international travel.
Michael Gove is currently leading a review into the possible use of such passports in the UK. It follows ethical concerns about the system, particularly as pregnant women and people with certain medical conditions are advised against having the jab.
The findings of Gove’s review may not be available until stage four of the lockdown easing, as we approach June 21. Yet in the meantime, some countries have already announced they’ll require proof of vaccination when lockdown lifts – as well as certain companies, too.
So, what do we know so far about the passports, and where are they likely to be introduced in the UK?
What’s the deal with travel?
Vaccine passports for international travel will be “a feature of our life in the future”, Boris Johnson has said.
Greece has said it will require international tourists coming into the country to have been vaccinated, had a recent negative Covid-19 test or have proof of coronavirus antibodies before travelling. Visitors to Cyprus, meanwhile, must have had both doses of a vaccine. Other countries, including Denmark and Sweden, have also announced plans to introduce vaccine passports.
Meanwhile, EU leaders are discussing the possibility of a “digital green card” – a vaccine passport recognised across Europe to support travel.
Vaccination passports may not become mandatory for all foreign travel. Turkey, for example, expects to welcome UK holidaymakers this summer without requiring proof of a vaccine or a negative test. Tourism minister Mehmet Ersoy said the country is “looking forward to welcoming British tourists with open arms”, according to PA.
Ahead of the EU’s green card decision and UK government review, some companies are taking matters into their own hands.
P&O Cruises, the UK’s largest cruise line, has said only UK residents who have received both doses of a coronavirus vaccine at least seven days in advance will be permitted onboard, when the business resumes ‘staycation sailings’ around the UK coastline this summer. It follows similar moves by the cruise companies Saga, Royal Caribbean and Virgin Voyages.
Some airlines are getting in on the act, too. British Airways has announced it is trialing a system enabling passengers to add proof of coronavirus vaccines and tests to flight bookings.
The airline is trialling the system for flights from London to India initially, but said the programme will be expanded to more destinations in the coming weeks. The aim is to make international travel more simple, it says, by checking documents in advance to ensure they match the entry requirements of the relevant destination.
Vaccine passports in pubs and clubs
Boris Johnson has previously said it is more likely that nightclubs will use lateral flow testing rather than vaccine passports as the UK comes out of lockdown. The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) has said passports aren’t favoured, but it hasn’t ruled out the possibility, either.
“As one of the industries that has been hardest hit by the pandemic, we have reviewed a considerable range of methods for testing and certification. Many are less intrusive than health passports,” Michael Kill, CEO of NTIA, tells HuffPost UK.
“In particular, we have worked alongside tech solutions that link negative lateral flow test results with the event or admission ticket to validate a purchase.”
The industry recognises there may be a need for health passports for travel, he adds, and suspects “there will be a requirement for its use within our borders given the challenging environments that we represent for the immediate future”.
Pubs, it seems, are less open to the idea of vaccine passports, given many reopened in summer 2020 without these measures. “Collectively pubs have spent hundreds of millions of pounds putting in place Covid-secure measures so the public can rest assured that they are safe places to socialise,” says Emma McClarkin, CEO of the British Beer and Pub Association.
“Our sector has already gone to extraordinary lengths to prepare for reopening and we do not believe a further requirement for pubs to check whether someone has had the vaccine or been tested would be appropriate or necessary.”
What about other hospitality venues?
Hospitality UK, which represents everything from restaurants and coffee shops to hotels, bowling alleys and escape rooms, said it isn’t aware of any members considering vaccine passports.
While vaccine passports might be useful for international travel, “we do not think that such a measure is going to be appropriate for day-to-day hospitality businesses,” chief executive Kate Nicholls tells HuffPost UK.
“Businesses have already put measures in place to ensure that venues are safe. They will be opening under tight restrictions and approaching the job of reopening with a wealth of experience from last year,” she says.
“In many cases, businesses have spent huge sums of money, changing layouts, overhauling staff training and ramping up cleaning regimes. This should be enough to ensure guests and staff are kept safe.”
Mandatory use of a vaccine passports would place extra strain on businesses, she adds, potentially cutting revenue at a time when the industry can’t afford it.
What do cinemas, theatres and festivals say?
The UK Cinema Association, which represents the interests of over 90% of UK cinema operators, has taken a strong stance against vaccine passports.
“We do not think such a requirement is appropriate for what is supposed to be a place of entertainment and enjoyment, nor do we think that the overwhelming majority of cinema-goers would expect or welcome such an imposition,” chief executive Phil Clapp tells HuffPost UK.
The Society Of London Theatre said it wouldn’t be commenting on the vaccine passport debate. HuffPost UK has also contacted other nationwide theatre organisations and will update this article if we receive a response.
The Association of Festival Organisers (AFO), however, is more open to the idea of vaccine passports, as long as those who are unable to have the vaccine for medical reasons can still obtain a ticket following a negative test result.
Steve Heap, general secretary of AFO, says the idea of having mass testing on the gate “was never going to work”.
“So with so many having had at least one jab before the end of July, a combination of proof and test may be a way forward,” he says.
“However, we also believe human rights must be observed to the best of our ability, ie if a pregnant woman or someone with an allergy can’t have a jab, then a test has to replace it.”
Although vaccine passports are a messy solution, like the nightlife industry, festival organisers realise they may have to embrace the idea to stay afloat.
“If the festival and events industry is going to get going again we will have to adapt to this new Covid world,” says Heap. “We will not like all of it, but to survive and deliver the festivals that people want, times are going to have to change.”