The government has confirmed two significant advances in border operations ahead of Monday’s restart of international travel with the launch of NHS Covid-19 vaccination certificates and the digitisation of Border Force checks on inbound travellers.
The NHS app will be able to show the Covid-19 vaccination status of holders from Monday, allowing travellers who have been fully vaccinated to display this if required by destinations.
There had been doubts as to whether the app would be ready to display people’s vaccination status by May 17 despite previous government announcements.
Border Force systems have also been upgraded to enable staff to check inbound passengers have completed passenger locator forms (PLFs) by scanning passports.
This should partially reduce the time taken to check every inbound passenger manually amid fears of unprecedented queues at airports until e-gates can be upgraded to register PLF details. Only a handful of e-gates at Heathrow are likely to be ready by the end of this month.
An aviation source told Travel Weekly: “This will help at the border. All checks will be manual but Border Force staff will be able to see whether the PLF has been completed and identify whether passengers are from red, amber or green destinations.”
The Department for Transport (DfT) issued guidance to carriers on both measures and a communications ‘toolkit’ for passengers late on Thursday.
However, the guidance repeats the government’s instruction that: “People should not be travelling to amber and red countries.”
It warns: “Maintaining 100% health checks at the border means queues are inevitable.” And it makes clear that the standard UK entry process for arrivals will be the ‘amber process’ requiring 10-day self-isolation
The guidance notes: “Passengers are required to follow the Amber process unless they have either been in or transited through any Red countries . . . or been only in Green-list countries in the 10 days before their arrival.”
The vaccination certificate will be solely of use to outbound passengers traveling to destinations which demand it for the time being. It will be available via the NHS app, the NHS website or, from May 17, by calling the NHS helpline on 119 to request a paper certificate.
The government advises waiting at least five days after completing vaccination before ordering the certificate and allowing seven days for delivery.
The certification includes a QR code based on the World Health Organisation (WHO) format. The paper certificate incorporates several security features used in the production of bank notes.
The industry source said: “There has been a flurry of activity in the last 48 hours. It is late in the day, but these will be significant changes in place for Monday.
“The certification is just for those countries that require it, but the technology can be extended. This has not changed the green list and passenger flows may not be significant from next week. But the platform for expanding the green list is going to be much more robust.
“It is a big step forward. Monday is likely to be limited, but we have the platform in place to grow now.”
The government has said test certification will be added to the NHS app at some point, but test providers have yet to issue digital test certificates.
The DfT will also launch a promised Passenger Charter on Monday, spelling out the changes passengers can expect and what will be expected of them.