Plan for COVID vaccine passports to be ready by 17 May for overseas travel, UK minister confirms

Smartphone with digital vaccination certificate for COVID-19 on a luggage.
COVID vaccine passports are set to on 17 Ma7 for international travel. (Getty/stock photo)

The government has confirmed it is still planning to have COVID vaccine passports ready to use for for overseas travel from 17 May – the day Brits are able to travel abroad again.

The next stage of Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown will allow international travel from the UK and vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi revealed that the launch of the health certificates will coincide with the May date.

Zahawi said that NHSX – the government unit developing policy on health service technology – were working on the passport so that Britons can travel abroad as soon as it is allowed.

He told BBC Breakfast: "For travel overseas, clearly a number of countries are now indicating they will request a COVID certification.

Passengers queue for check-in at Gatwick Airport in West Sussex, amid concerns that borders will close and with the public being urged to adhere to Government guidance after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Saturday that from Sunday areas in the South East currently in Tier 3 will be moved into a new Tier 4 for two weeks Ð effectively returning to the lockdown rules of November, after scientists warned of the rapid spread of the new variant coronavirus. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)
Passengers queue for check-in at Gatwick Airport in West Sussex. (Getty)

"That's proof of either a COVID jab, or obviously a test as we currently request a pre-departure test certificate – other countries do the same thing.

"So, NHSX under Matthew Gould are working on making that operationally possible by the 17th of May.”

Zahawi said that “clearly a number of countries” are going ahead with vaccine passports so the government would “much rather do it in a co-ordinated way”.

Watch: Government exploring use of vaccine passports for live events in UK

Despite previously describing domestic vaccine passports as “discriminatory”, Zahawi confirmed that the government is “exploring” whether large events in the UK would require them.

He added: “We are exploring through the different pilots that we are running, certainly for mass events which could prove more challenging for us to open up, say, Wembley Stadium for the semi-final of the FA Cup or the final.

“If you want to go to 100% seat capacity at Wembley, you have to look at all these technologies which are available to you and I think it is only right and responsible for any government to explore that.

“Michael Gove is reviewing how we would do that – there are some very important questions that people will be clearly worried about, including issues around discrimination and we can’t be discriminatory in any way on this.”

Zahawi’s comments come after transport secretary Grant Shapps announced that the NHS app will be used by holidaymakers in England to prove their coronavirus status to destination countries.

The app, which is currently used to book medical appointments and order repeat prescriptions, will display evidence that someone has been vaccinated or recently tested, he said.

However, the BBC on Tuesday reported a government source saying the app would not be ready "imminently".

A person holding a mobile phone displaying the NHS app. The NHS app will be used by holidaymakers in England to prove their coronavirus status to destination countries, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced. Picture date: Wednesday April 28, 2021. (Photo by Kirsty O'Connor/PA Images via Getty Images)
The NHS app will be used by holidaymakers in England to prove their coronavirus status to destination countries. (Getty)

As well as international travel being permitted again, the next stage of the road map out of lockdown will allow gatherings of up to 30 people permitted outside, while most businesses will be allowed to reopen – including for indoor hospitality.

The final stage of lockdown easing is currently set for 21 June, when the government aims to remove all restrictions on social contact and allow nightclubs and other large venues to reopen.

The government has previously insisted it would only open up more if the data allowed it – and health secretary Matt Hancock said on Wednesday that the UK was still on track with its plan.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 28: Britain's Health Secretary, Matt Hancock gives a thumbs up gesture during a virtual press conference inside the new Downing Street Briefing Room in London on April 28, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Kirsty Wigglesworth - WPA pool/Getty Images)
Health secretary Matt Hancock said the UK was on track for further lockdown easing. (Getty)

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, Hancock said: “The data show that we are essentially precisely on track for where we expected to be at this point and that is obviously good news.

“It means we can follow the road map – and we look at the data all the time.

“The dates we set out are not-before dates because we want to see the impact of each step before the decision to take the next step.”

He added: “The good news is that as far as the next step is concerned, which is in a few weeks’ time – and we’re going to keep monitoring the data – but as of today, we are on track for step three on 17 May and that is good news.”

Watch: How England will leave lockdown