The NHS app might not be ready in time for the restart of travel on May 17, Downing Street has admitted. Despite the Transport Secretary announcing last week that the app would form part of an “internationally recognised” system, a Government spokesperson said on Monday that it is now preparing for “another approach”.
But what could that entail? A senior industry source, who is involved in discussions on the technology, told The Telegraph: "I suspect they will take whatever evidence we have in the short term, whether it is another private app solution, a paper certificate, a letter from your GP or a negative PCR test."
With less than two weeks until international holidays will (hopefully) resume, a humble paper vaccine certification certainly looks like the easiest option – at least until the technology catches up. There are certainly big downsides to this approach: a paper document is easiest to forge, and perhaps to lose. But it would tuck neatly in your passport, wouldn’t require a smartphone or other gadgetry, and wouldn’t be dependent on a Wi-Fi connection or full battery.
However, such a document would be useless if no country accepted it. Read on to see which countries are looking most likely to welcome our low-fi ‘vaccine passports’, and which could remain off-limits for a while longer.
Iceland: Already accepting paper certificates
Iceland isn’t waiting for a digital certification tool: a paper proof of vaccination is currently accepted for visiting travellers who have had all doses required.
“Certificates may be in paper or electronic format,” the country’s Directorate of Health explains. “Border control will evaluate whether a certificate is valid [...] If a passenger presents a document that is deemed invalid, i.e. if any of the necessary requirements are missing, the passenger must, as other arrival passengers, undergo double testing with quarantine in between tests and stay in a designed quarantine facility if applicable.”
Vaccine certificates must be written in English, Icelandic, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish or French, and include the name of the vaccine, the manufacturer and batch number, and details of where and when it was administered. For more information, see covid.is.
Greece: Considering the NHS card as proof
Greece is prepared to welcome Britons who have had both vaccinations, using only their handwritten NHS card as proof, its Tourism Minister has said. "Until the UK has a digital passport, we have seen the paper cards that are provided with the two vaccine appointment dates and we are recognising them. They can be used on the ground and at the borders," Harry Theoharis told The Times.
This would allow fully vaccinated Britons to visit Greece as soon as it opens – on May 15, two days before the date we may be permitted to travel abroad – without having to present a negative Covid test.
However, a spokesperson for Theoharis then stated to Sky News: "We accept only official documents issued by the competent British authorities that prove the vaccination particulars. If someone has documents that are not issued by anyone, we mandate a negative test."
Whether the NHS card currently in circulation across Britain, which is stamped by a nurse or doctor, amounts to an 'official document' issued by 'competent authority' or not remains unclear. The spokesperson also said: "Our understanding is that a health pass will be forthcoming."
Portugal: Digital certificates only, says Tourism Minister
Rita Marques, Portugal's Tourism Minister, has said her country would accept only a digital pass because of the risk of fakes – but that the country is aiming to welcome back British holidaymakers this summer without the need for quarantine or additional testing.
Marques was speaking after the European Union agreed to push forward with plans for a bloc-wide coronavirus passport to kickstart Europe’s travel industry.
She told an online conference Portugal would try “at all costs to avoid quarantines and additional Covid-19 tests” for international arrivals, adding that she believed the UK will remain its largest inbound market. In order to do so, she may need to reconsider her digital-only stance.
Spain: Likely to accept both paper and digital certificates
Spain is preparing to open its borders to British holidaymakers in June, provided they have a digital vaccine certificate or a negative Covid test result, The Telegraph reported last week. There was no suggestion of a paper certificate, but Spain is currently trialling its own version of the EU's proposed Digital Green Certificate – a concept which will have both digital and paper iterations.
Of course, as the UK is no longer part of the EU, the Digital Green Certificate will not be applicable to Britons. But if the country is looking into the scheme, perhaps it will favour paper certificates from visiting Britons too. After all, as a nation we contribute the most to Spain’s tourism coffers, with UK visitors spending €55billion (£50billion) annually pre-pandemic.
Croatia: Paper certificates accepted, but you’ll need a PCR test too
Since April 1, anyone who presents a vaccine certificate (with the final dose taken at least 14 days before their arrival) can enter Croatia. You will need to upload a scanned copy of the document to your Croatia Entry Form (which is necessary to enter the country), but that seems to be as digital as it gets. There is no need to download an app to prove your vaccination status.
It seems that certificates will be assessed on an ad hoc basis, as the ministry gives little guidance on what formats or languages are accepted. And, as the FCDO’s Croatia advice states, “Until there is means to certify vaccinations for international travel, all travellers should continue to obtain a PCR [test]”. So you will still need to provide proof of a negative Covid test, taken no more than 48 hours before arriving in the country.
France: Now issuing its own paper vaccine certificates
People who receive the vaccine in France will now be issued with a paper certificate, as well as a QR code to update their details on the country’s Covid-tracking app, TousAntiCovid.
This is encouraging for Britons, as it seems that France is embracing both paper and digital certification. And there’s more good news: from June 9, France will bring in a 'health pass', which will allow travellers to enter the country if they have proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test. If France itself is issuing paper certificates, it seems plausible that it will accept those issued by other countries too.
Italy: A ‘green pass’ is imminent – but will it be paper or digital?
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi announced on May 5 that Italy “has introduced a national green pass, which will come into force from the second half of May”.
Though there have been no further details about the new pass, and whether it will be certified digitally, Drahi indicated that the move was good news for holidaymakers: "Let us not wait until mid-June for the EU pass [...] In mid-May tourists can have the Italian pass [...] so the time has come to book your holidays in Italy."
With such a quick turnaround time, it seems unlikely that the Italian pass will rely on digital technology. Indeed, the UK’s analogue approach may not be an exception this summer after all: a good old fashioned paper certificate could well be your ticket to freedom.