NHS app may not be ready to use as jab passport when foreign travel resumes, No10 admits

4 May 2021, 21:03

The NHS app might not be ready to use as a jab passport in time for when foreign travel resumes
The NHS app might not be ready to use as a jab passport in time for when foreign travel resumes. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Downing Street has admitted the NHS app might not be ready to use as a Covid vaccine passport when international travel resumes.

Boris Johnson's official spokesman suggested on Tuesday that officials were looking at alternative solutions for when foreign travel returns.

Flights abroad for leisure purposes are expected to return on 17 May for people in England.

However, holidaymakers will need to show evidence that they have been vaccinated, received a recent negative Covid-19 test or have antibodies to the virus.

It was hoped the NHS coronavirus app would be ready to use for international travel, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps having previously said it will be able to carry out this function.

The app is currently used to book medical appointments and order repeat prescriptions.

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But the Prime Minister's spokesman explained other approaches are under consideration in case the app is not ready.

"Mr Shapps set out the approach we are looking to take," the spokesman said.

"Obviously we will be able to confirm ahead of the 17th at the earliest what measures are used for those initial countries that are available for travel, be it the app or another approach."

The spokesman added: "There are other routes to achieving the same end goal. We are working on the app at the moment, at pace, to have it ready, and we will be able to confirm ahead of the 17th at the earliest what approaches we will be using."

Henk van Klaveren, head of public affairs at trade body The Airport Operators Association, said the function of enabling the app to prove someone's vaccine status "should be a relatively simple technical step".

However, he added that he is "not as confident" over its ability to integrate test results.

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He told the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Coronavirus it "has to be the case" that the UK has a "four-nation approach" to the issue.

Mr van Klaveren said: "From Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland there is currently no roadmap on how international travel will restart.

"And similarly, there is no approach at the moment on a four-nation basis for a vaccine passport."

Premier League executive director Bill Bush told the hearing that league officials "do support some form of certification for our events", suggesting the alternative would be restrictions in the form of social distancing or smaller crowds.

He said any form of certification should be voluntary and acknowledged it was an "acceptable" but "burdensome" way to allow fans back into stadiums.

Professor Stephen Reicher, from the University of St Andrews and a member of the Sage sub-committee advising on behavioural science, told the APPG that vaccination of white people is "much higher" than black people.

He then urged the government to be "very careful not to exacerbate that" in relation to the use of coronavirus passports for domestic use, such as to gain entry to a pub or restaurant.

Prof Reicher said: "If a particular intervention, a particular form of vaccine passport, creates alienation and undermines the level of vaccine take up, then it's counterproductive, then that limits our ability to make people safe and limits our ability to reopen our society at every level."

He added: "There's a real danger that this pandemic will become a pandemic of inequalities, with certain pockets of marginal communities, of deprived communities, in which people are more exposed and in which people are less vaccinated."

Karren Brady, a member of the APPG and vice-chair of West Ham United Football Club, said: "Sadly, serious questions remain over how Covid passports would work and how effective they would be, whether for domestic events or international travel.

"We still don't know how long immunity from vaccines lasts, whether a streamlined digital system can be introduced in time for this summer and if it will include Covid test results.

"The UK Government should work with the aviation and events industries to provide answers to these practical challenges."