British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Heathrow have joined forces to trial an identification process in a bid to prove it’s possible to quickly and easily verify those arriving into the UK who are fully vaccinated.
A scheme, similar to one already in place for outbound travel to several countries, will come into force later this week.
The UK proving trial allows inbound travellers of all nationalities to present their fully-vaccinated status, and the airlines and Heathrow say it will support the government on its plans to remove quarantine for double-jabbed passengers entering the UK from ‘amber list’ countries.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps is due to give an update on the introduction of quarantine-free travel from amber list countries ‘later this week’, with the policy due to be rolled out ‘later this summer’.
Fully vaccinated volunteers travelling on selected flights from Athens, Los Angeles, Montego Bay and New York to Heathrow will show proof of their vaccine status as part of the trial, which aims to reassure government that airlines and airports can check vaccine status “upstream” and away from the border, reducing further pressure on UK immigration halls.
Those taking part in the trial will be able to use a dedicated arrivals lane and British Airways customers will be able to access a discounted rate for the mandatory arrivals tests.
Those taking part on arrivals from amber list countries will continue to adhere to current restrictions and anonymised data will be shared with the UK government “at the earliest opportunity”.
Internationally-recognised vaccination credentials to be accepted in the proving trial include the NHS app, CDC card, US state-level digital certification and EU Digital Covid Credential.
British Airways will also support customers’ vaccine verification through the VeriFLY app and Virgin Atlantic customers can verify their vaccine certificate through a new digital uploader tool, developed in partnership with Delta Air Lines and backed by TrustAssure™ technology.
As the proof-of-concept develops, the options for customers to show vaccine status will “rapidly” be expanded, across physical, digital and integrated formats, including IATA Travel Pass.
Earlier this week, Germany became the latest country to confirm it would accept fully-vaccinated UK travellers without the need to quarantine. France, Greece, Portugal, Cyprus and Malta all accept fully-vaccinated travellers, including US residents, without the need for quarantine
The US also allows its fully-vaccinated residents to avoid self-isolation. The UK government’s own data also continues to show very low positivity in test results from ‘green’ and ‘amber’ country arrivals, with just 0.4% testing positive, and none of them had a variant of concern.
In the US, more than 157 million people have been fully vaccinated – including 58% of US adults – with domestic flying returning to pre-pandemic levels.
Meanwhile, 86% of UK adults have had a first dose of a Covid vaccine, with 64% fully vaccinated.
Data from Public Health England has shown two doses of the vaccines offer 79% protection against becoming ill from the Delta variant and reduces the likelihood of needing hospitalisation by 96%.
Sean Doyle, British Airways chief executive and chairman, said: “We need to act quickly to protect jobs, re-build the UK economy and reunite loved ones. We are already helping our customers show proof of their vaccination status when travelling to a number of other countries outside the UK which require it, and we’re confident we can make this happen for entry to Britain too, very quickly.
“We look forward to providing the data that proves it’s simple for fully vaccinated status to be verified and to the Government meeting its commitment to get the country moving again.”
Shai Weiss, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, added: “To reap the benefits of the UK’s world-leading vaccine roll out, the UK government must act now to remove self-isolation for fully vaccinated passengers arriving from ‘amber’ countries, and no later than the domestic reopening on July 19.
“Our proof-of-concept trial on selected US and Caribbean routes demonstrates our readiness as an industry to rapidly operationalise the new policy, and work with government and authorities to ensure it is smoothly implemented at pace, supporting the reopening of the transatlantic corridor, without which £23 million is lost each day from the UK economy.
“The UK is already falling behind US and EU and a continued overly cautious approach towards international travel will further impact economic recovery and the 500,000 UK jobs that are at stake.”
Heathrow has released new research from economics consultancy CEBR, which it says reinforces the importance of aviation to the government’s ambitions for Global Britain, which it says could help industry deliver a £204 billion trade boost to the UK.
Heathrow says this cannot be realised unless the UK’s aviation industry is supported by government policies to resume flying as soon as possible.
John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of Heathrow, said: “This pilot will allow us to show that pre-departure and arrival checks of vaccination status can be carried out safely at check in, so that fully-vaccinated passengers can avoid quarantine from the July 19.
“In addition to this, the UK government must make progress on reopening travel between the US after a designated taskforce was established to look at this back at the G7.
“Heathrow is the main port for trade in goods and services with the US, the only country with whom the UK has a trade surplus. New research today demonstrates just how critical it is to the UK economy to get the passenger planes that carry those exports off the ground.
“This is a vital step towards delivering the Government’s ambitions for Global Britain and they now need to act fast.”