Grant Shapps today warned of major challenges reopening Transatlantic travel with states having different systems for proving whether Americans are double-jabbed.
The Transport Secretary said the government is working on plans to allow fully-vaccinated people to visit the UK without needing to quarantine.
But he cautioned that it will be ‘easier’ to organise for some places than others, pointing out that there are ’50 different systems’ for proving vaccine status in the US – many of them paper based.
By contrast the EU has been setting up a digital app that will apply across the bloc, similar to the NHS arrangements.
Mr Shapps announced yesterday that from so-called ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19, people who have received both doses in the UK can visit amber-list destinations without having to quarantine on their return.
Grant Shapps said the government is working on plans to allow fully-vaccinated people to visit the UK without needing to quarantine
There are currently severe restrictions on travel to and from the US. Pictured, details from the Sky Scanner website
Which US states have digital Covid vaccine passports, and which ones don’t
The US public health agency the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks how many Americans get their Covid jabs each day, but a national ‘vaccine passport’ system will likely never come to pass.
While a handful of states are pioneering a digital certification system, several Republican-led state governments have come out against ‘proof of vaccination,’ claiming it opens the door to discrimination against unvaccinated Americans.
The ongoing debate means that many Americans will have to rely only on a standard-issue CDC paper vaccination card – adding another complex layer to the tricky task of reopening borders to international travel post-pandemic.
In addition to receiving the printed CDC card, fully-vaccinated New Yorkers are entitled to the state’s digital Excelsior Pass. The mobile certificate is the first of its kind in the country, and provides residents with a unique QR code that confirms their vaccination status.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a landmark bill in early May prohibiting businesses from requiring vaccine passports, citing ‘government overreach’ and privacy issues. Americans traveling from the state only have their paper CDC card as proof of their jabs.
The state has looked to make it abundantly clear that vaccine passports will not be mandatory, but has rolled out a Digital COVID-19 Vaccination Record. Users create a four-digit pin and are able to access their CDC card information on their smartphones. Like New York, it also gives them a QR code for easy proof-of-entry scans. California officials have stressed the use of this program will be left largely up to private entities.
Texas’ Republican-led government also forces citizens to rely on the CDC paper card. Governor Greg Abbott banned government entities from requiring proof of vaccination for fear it would ‘tread on our personal freedoms.’
The only Southern state that provides residents with a digital Covid vaccination pass, the Democrat-led state added proof-of-vaccination to its LA Wallet mobile app. The app also allows state residents to digitally retrieve their drivers license.
The cluster of islands is the final of four states currently offering digital vaccine passports. After being tested among Hawaiians hopping between islands, the Safe Travels digital system is now open to all Americans looking to travel to the tropical state. Users are required to register either their proof-of-vaccination or negative Covid test in the state-run database.
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker vowed in April that his state would not roll out vaccine passports, though he left the door open for residents to ‘look for some way to have an electronic measure available.’ The city of Chicago announced plans to roll out its own digital ‘Vax Pass‘ for urban dwellers earlier this year.
….Other states that have banned the vaccine passport requirement and only leave residents with the CDC paper card are Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, Vermont, Alaska, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.
What restrictions do other countries have on Britons visiting?
Travellers who can prove they are fully vaccinated do not need an essential reason to travel to France and do not need to self-isolate on arrival.
Anyone aged over 11 years must give evidence of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure, or a negative antigen test result taken within 48 hours of departure, as well as a ‘sworn statement’ they are not suffering from Covid symptoms and have not been in contact with confirmed cases in the preceding fortnight.
Britons aged 12 or over must have either proof of a negative test 48 hours prior to arrival, or proof of being fully vaccinated at least 14 days beforehand.
Anyone aged six or over who has been in the UK in the previous 14 days must present a negative test result from the past 48 hours.
They must also self-isolate for five days and take another test at the end of the period.
Those arriving without a negative test will need to self-isolate for 10 days and then have a test.
Travellers from the UK can avoid quarantine requirements if they have proof of a negative PCR test up to 72 hours before arrival, a rapid antigen test within 48 hours, or that they have received two vaccine jabs at least 14 days earlier.
It is also acceptable to show evidence of having recovered from coronavirus – such as a positive test from months earlier.
All travellers, apart from children under 12, must have proof of a negative COVID-19 test to travel to or through mainland Portugal.
If you have travelled from the UK to mainland Portugal, you must quarantine for 14 days in the place you are staying.
But this requirement is waived if people can show they are fully vaccinated, and children travelling with a vaccinated adult are exempt from quarantine.
In Madeira and Porto Santo tests are not required for people who are fully vaccinated.
Fully vaccinated Britons are exempt from quarantine, but must do a pre-departure digital registration.
Unvaccinated children under 12 years of age are allowed to enter Germany if they present proof of a negative test result and travel with at least one fully vaccinated parent.
Since 16 March 2020, it is not possible for most British nationals to enter the US if they have been in the UK, Ireland, Schengen zone, Iran, Brazil, or China within the previous 14 days.
Speaking on Sky News, he said he expected to be able to make an announcement ‘in the next couple of weeks’ on extending the benefit to people who receive a World Health Organisation-approved vaccine in other countries.
‘The next thing is to be able to recognise apps from other countries or certification from other countries,’ he said.
But he added: ‘It is easier done from some places, like the EU where they have a digital app coming along, than it is in the United States where I think they have 50 different systems, one for each state.’
Airlines, businesses and the tourism industry have been stressing the importance of reopening travel links with the US.
America does not currently allow Britons to visit for non-essential reasons.
But it is on the UK’s ‘amber list’ and has a high vaccination rate, meaning that if the self-isolation exemption for the double-jabbed could be extended to US citizens it could significantly free up movement.
Yesterday’s announcement means quarantine-free holidays to major European destinations such as Greece, Spain and Portugal can get under way for the first time since last year.
For the double-jabbed, it also effectively turns 147 destinations currently on the amber list into green-list destinations.
MPs and tourism leaders hailed the announcement as ‘a shot in the arm’ for the beleaguered travel sector and UK economy. But they also warned that the cost of tests remains a ‘barrier’ to foreign travel for many families as they urged ministers to drive down prices further.
Announcing the move in the Commons, Mr Shapps warned that the extra checks which come with the overhaul could see huge queues at both foreign and UK borders.
And, a Whitehall source said Border Force is ‘nowhere near ready’ to cope with the changes. The source predicted that the agency was unlikely to have upgraded its system until next month, potentially leading to weeks of chaos at the border.
‘You could easily be looking at queues of six hours to start with,’ the source said.
‘The Border Force is nowhere near ready. What no-one knows is how much extra traffic there will be as a result of the change.’
Earlier this year queues of up to seven hours were seen at Heathrow Airport despite passenger numbers being around 15 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
There was also confusion last night about whether the Foreign Office will fully align its travel advice to the new amber rules.
It currently advises against non-essential travel to most amber destinations, invalidating most insurance policies and putting people off travel. Last night the Foreign Office dropped its advice against non-essential travel to 23 destinations – including France, Greece, the Greek islands, Spain and the US.
But it was unclear if it would be changed for the more than 100 other amber destinations.
In the Commons, former prime minister Theresa May hailed the easing of restrictions for the double-jabbed as ‘the first step in opening up Britain for business’.
But she called on Mr Shapps to broker a deal with fellow ministers to boost border resources to avoid ‘inordinately long queues’.
Responding, Mr Shapps said: ‘Quite a lot of the check-in would be done before you board the aircraft, or what could also be a train or boat, from the location you’re coming back from. And so the queues at check-in, whilst you’re abroad, may in fact be the place where those problems most exist.
‘I know that many of the airlines are developing systems to further automate that check-in, but they will be doing quite a complicated job.’ Asked by Tory MP Sir Roger Gale what would be done to ensure the UK-French Channel border runs smoothly, Mr Shapps said: ‘These additional checks are likely to cause delays, potentially on both sides of the Channel this summer, and that people will want to prepare and plan their journeys with supplies and also ensure that they have picked the best time of day to travel in order to avoid it.’
Announcing the move in the Commons, Mr Shapps confirmed that from the so-called ‘Freedom Day’, double-jabbed people can visit amber-list destinations without having to quarantine on their return