What are COVID passports and when will you need one?

·9 min read
Could COVID passports become mandatory? (Getty Images)
Could COVID passports become mandatory? (Getty Images)

COVID passports look set to be introduced for the first time in England, as Boris Johnson warned that people must exercise "extreme caution" despite his proposed scrapping of restrictions next week. 

Earlier this week, the Prime Minister revealed that nightclubs and other venues with large crowds would be urged to adopt COVID certification "as a matter of social responsibility".

The PM urged relevant businesses to "make use" of the NHS COVID app (different to the NHS COVID-19 app, which is used for contact tracing) which shows proof of double vaccination, a recent negative test or natural immunity, as "a means of entry".

The move represents a u-turn by the government after Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, said in February, "we are not planning to have a [COVID] passport in the UK".

There has been much talk about COVID passports, with Britons already required to provide proof of COVID status in order to travel to some countries and avoid quarantine after returning from many popular holiday destinations.

Now, however, despite government guidance last week making clear 'COVID status certification’ would not be a legal requirement, it looks likely it will be advised for any “high-risk” venue.

That means nightclubs, gigs, sports and even some crowded city centre pubs will be “encouraged” to ask all punters to show they’ve had either the vaccine, a negative rapid test or a past COVID infection to get in.

Venues ciould demand vaccination proof on entry. (Getty Creative)
Venues ciould demand vaccination proof on entry. (Getty Creative)

Read more: Vaccine passports are ‘inevitable’, aviation expert says

Confused? Here's everything you need to know about COVID passports...

What is a COVID passport?

The idea behind COVID-19 passports is that they could be used to prove they’ve had either the vaccine, a negative rapid test or a past COVID infection when travelling, or entering a 'high risk' venue.

“As lockdown restrictions begin to ease the risk of community transmission increases. As announced recently by the Prime Minister, domestic COVID passports are set to be introduced to ensure that those attending events or venues are at the lowest possible risk of being able to transmit the virus," explains Professor Denis Kinane, leading immunologist and co-founder of COVID-testing company, Cignpost Diagnostics.

COVID passports would see members of the public who wish to attend events with large crowds use the NHS COVID app to show proof of a double vaccination or recent negative test in order to enter the event.

Will they be called COVID passports?

Rather than just 'vaccine or COVID passports', the more inclusive COVID Status Certificate may be used instead.

"These include vaccination status, and also the results of a person’s recent tests and whether they’ve tested for COVID in the past," explains Andrew Bud, founder and CEO, iProov.

COVID passports are being used to allow Brits to avoid quarantine after travel to holiday destinations this summer. (Getty Images)
COVID passports are being used to allow Brits to avoid quarantine after travel to holiday destinations this summer. (Getty Images)

Where will the passports be used?

At present, the use of vaccine passports have not been mandated and it is therefore unclear as to where exactly they will be expected to be used. 

"However, from a perspective of controlling the virus, they are most likely to be used in situations where large groups of people congregate, for example sporting events or music festivals, or where people must be close together and indoors in order for the venue to function, such as nightclubs,” Professor Kinane adds. 

Crowded sporting events could make Covid passports a condition of entry (Getty Creative)
Crowded sporting events could make Covid passports a condition of entry (Getty Creative)

According to Nicky Kelvin, head of The Points Guy UK the NHS app could also act as your digital vaccine passport when travelling and was first introduced when the ban on international travel was lifted on May 17. 

"This is not the Track and Trace app but instead the main NHS app which includes your private medical records," he explains. 

"However, being vaccinated isn’t a requirement to travel to a number of countries, so be sure to check the entry requirements before you travel. 

"As the vaccine rollout gains momentum, I predict that the app will play a much greater role in the future and there may be other apps that rise to prominence. For example, British Airways uses the VeriFly app to check and verify tests and documents," he adds. 

Read more: The UK destinations to book now for your summer holiday

Who can get a COVID passport?

If you're aged 16 or over, you can get an NHS COVID pass depending on your vaccination status or COVID-19 test results.

"Domestic COVID passports are set to be available to anyone," explains Professor Kinane. "However, in order for them to be useful, the individual will be expected either to have been double-vaccinated or recently tested negative for the coronavirus.”

According to the NHS there are a number of different ways to get a COVID Pass.

You can get a digital version using the NHS App or NHS website. You can download it as a PDF or get it sent to you in an email.

You can get a digital version by:

- downloading the NHS App – you must be registered with a GP surgery in England to use the app.

- using the online NHS COVID Pass service.

You will need an NHS login to use these services. You'll be asked to create one if you do not have an NHS login already.

Watch: PM rules out COVID passes for shops and pubs. 

What happens if you don't have a smartphone? 

You can get an NHS COVID pass letter sent to you in the post.

This shows you've been vaccinated against COVID-19. It does not show COVID-19 test results.

You can ask for a letter two weeks after having your second dose of the vaccine, or two weeks after a single-dose Janssen vaccine. You should get it within five working days.

You do not need to be registered with a GP surgery or have an NHS login for this.

“At present, venues and events are being urged to take advantage of the capabilities of the NHS COVID App," adds Professor Kinane. 

"As this is only available on smartphones, it is essential that venues and events also cater for those without smart devices and those in older age groups who may be digitally excluded.”

Can you get a COVID passport if you're not double jabbed?

According to Professor Kinane research data shows that those who have been vaccinated with the second dose of a coronavirus vaccine are less likely to catch, transmit or be seriously ill from the virus. 

"With this in mind, vaccine passports are more than likely to require proof of being double-vaccinated in order ensure venues are as COVID-secure as possible,” he explains. 

“Much has been made of the lower vaccination rates of younger age cohorts, who are most likely to be using venues such as nightclubs or visiting events such as music festivals. 

Crowds Enjoying Themselves At Outdoor Music Festival With Arms in The Air
Outdoor festivals may require vaccination too. (Getty Creative)

"In order to cater for groups who are unlikely to have had the second vaccine dose, passports are expected to instead request proof of a recent negative test result,” he adds. 

Read more: Kindness is key to bouncing back from disappointment of England's loss

Will I need to prove I've been vaccinated to go to the pub or attend sporting events?

Possibly. COVID passports have been trialled at some events over the summer as part of the government's Events Research Programme, including at some concerts, nightclubs and sporting fixtures.

These events were exempt from the wider coronavirus regulations such as the rule of six.

As part of the scheme, spectators attending Euro 2020 matches at Wembley Stadium were asked to show their NHS Covid Pass or provide a negative lateral flow test result.

However, according to the BBC, the government have since said people will not have to prove their vaccination status in law "as a condition of entry for visitors to any setting".

It said organisations are already able to ask visitors for proof of their vaccination status if they chose to do so - as long as they do not breach existing equality laws - and will be able to continue doing so.

'High risk' venues are being asked to
'High risk' venues are being asked to "make use" of COVID passports. (Getty Images)

How can you prove your vaccination status in the rest of the UK?

Over-16s in Scotland can request a paper copy of their coronavirus vaccination status via the NHS inform website, or by calling 0808 196 8565.

You can also view and request to print your vaccination status online by logging in using your unique username and password.

Your username and password can be found in your coronavirus vaccination appointment letter.

Once you have signed in, you should select 'vaccination status' which will allow you to view and request to print your coronavirus vaccination record letter.

You can download the NHS Covid Pass in Wales, or you can request a paper copy by calling 0300 303 5667, at least five days after your final dose.

An official vaccine certificate will be launched in Northern Ireland later in July, but there is an interim system in place until then.

What are some of the issues surrounding the implementation of COVID passports?

With domestic COVID Status certificates for hospitality in the Autumn now being discussed, how they are eventually implemented will be crucial to whether they will gain public acceptance, says Bud. 

"The implementation will raise social, ethical, and legal issues, and it is important that government plans take full account of all of them," he adds. 

According to Bud there are four things that a solution needs to deliver: convenience, security, inclusivity, and privacy. 

"It is essential that it is super easy to check at the entry to venues - otherwise they'll be ignored and become pointless," he explains. 

Line of people on the stadium gates, waiting to get to their seats.
Get used to queueing if COVID passports get the go-ahead. (Getty Creative)

"So it has to be convenient for both the checker and the holder of the certificate."

Security is also an important factor to consider. "If it's easy to borrow, copy or fake a certificate then public confidence in the program will be lost and it won't be effective," Bud explains. 

"It also has to be inclusive to ensure those without a smartphone have a safe and secure option, and it has to enable vaccinated visitors and tourists from other countries to use it too." 

Finally, Bud said the passports must be respectful of people’s privacy. 

"Nobody should have to share their date of birth or address or any unnecessary information, which they would have to do if they need to show photo ID as part of the process," he adds.

Watch: COVID passports: Key to normality or discrimination?

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