Britain is working on a digital Covid-19 vaccine passport as the move to restart travel in Europe gathers pace.
The U.K. initiative, disclosed Wednesday by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, is based on an existing National Health Service app, which will be adapted to help travelers prove they’ve had a jab or tested negative for the virus.
The announcement comes a day after France started to trial short flights with a tracing app updated to host records of shots and tests, on short flights.
“In terms of vaccine certification, I can confirm we are working on an NHS application,” Shapps told Sky News. “It will be the NHS app that is used for people when they book appointments with the NHS and so on.”
Vaccine passports are emerging as a key plank of efforts to jump-start European tourism in time for the summer peak.
Britain had previously said that they were under consideration ahead of a planned reopening on May 17, while the European Union aims to introduce digital passes by June after governments reached a deal on technical standards earlier his month.
In virtual talks Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang discussed the use of vaccine certificates as a way to boost travel, as well as working together to ease the impact of the pandemic, according to a German government statement.
While Britain needs to remain cautious and protect the gains of its vaccine rollout, current data “does continue to look good” for reopening travel, Shapps said.
The minister told Times Radio that he will chair a meeting of Britain’s G-7 counterparts next week to discuss international co-ordination on the recognition of vaccine passports.
Within Europe, Greece has already started easing travel with some countries including its fellow EU members, with a full lifting of restrictions for international tourists set for May 15.
Britain, which along with Germany is the biggest source of visitors to Mediterranean sun spots, is set to announce a Green List of countries to which leisure travel will be permitted early next month.
Spanish tourism minister Fernando Valdes Verelst told The Sun newspaper on Wednesday that Britons will be allowed back in from June once an agreement on mutual recognition of vaccine passports is in place.
France is also moving toward a broad rollout of digital health certificates, putting the country at the forefront of a European Union push for vaccine passports to jumpstart travel.
France’s transport minister, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, said Tuesday that the country’s fledgling vaccine passport, which already has about 15 million users as a Covid-tracing app, is being deployed on services between Paris and the Mediterranean island of Corsica.
The trial will be extended to flights by Air France-KLM’s French unit to overseas territories next week and then to some neighboring countries. Talks have also been held with the U.K. on bilateral travel arrangements and discussions with the U.S. will be next, he said.
Following government approval for the EU’s plans on April 14, the European Parliament is set to adopt a position on the European Commission proposals Wednesday. Further negotiations will follow before an agreement on the final wording of rules is hatched sometime next month.
Didier Reynders, the EU’s justice commissioner, said in a speech to the Parliament that lawmakers should move quickly to allow travel across the bloc to resume for summer, warning against rigid rules for vaccine passes or delays to gage the impact of jabs on new Covid variants.
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