The UK has revealed plans to retrofit an existing NHS smartphone app to work as a ‘vaccine passport’, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said.
He said that the system would use the same app used to book appointments with the NHS. New functions will be added to demonstrate that users have been vaccinated or tested.
Government sources have added that the plan will not use the NHS Covid track and trace app, which allows people to check-in to venues.
However, the NHS appointment booking app is currently only in use in England. While the Scottish government has said that it is working on a digital system to show that people have been vaccinated, there are no concrete plans available yet.
It is also unclear how having multiple different systems in the UK will work.
So-called vaccine passports would allow people to prove they have been vaccinated and allow them to travel and attend gatherings. Multiple countries are currently considering whether, and how, to implement them. These could include an app like the one being introduced in the UK, a digital certificate with a QR code, which the EU is considering, or even a physical piece of paper.
“I’m working internationally with partners across the world to make sure that system can be internationally recognised,” Shapps said in comments to Sky News.
He also said that the UK will announce the green list of countries people in the UK will be able to visit without having to quarantine in the coming weeks. However, travellers will still need to be tested before leaving and on returning to the UK
At present, the UK government has said that May 17 is the earliest date when non-essential international travel will be allowed.
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Vaccine passports have proven controversial, with people opposed to having to prove they have been vaccinated against Covid-19 in order to engage in various activities.
On the one hand it would mean that people with a degree of protection against the coronavirus could freely travel or attend large gatherings with a minimal risk of spreading the virus.
However, they have also brought up concerns about privacy and discrimination, with people who exercise their right not to be vaccinated being excluded from activities. In addition, storing the vaccination record digitally could restrict older people and those on low incomes, as they are less likely to own smart phones.
Furthermore, in order to work there would need to be international standards to prevent forgery. Currently, airports, border agencies and airlines are concerned that a lack of a clear global standard would stop them being accepted across every jurisdiction.