Vaccine passports: What does EU agreement mean for British holidaymakers?

Helen Coffey
·3-min read

The European Union’s executive body has presented a proposal that would allow European citizens and residents — vaccinated or not — to travel freely across the 27-nation region by this summer.The plan, which will be discussed during an upcoming summit of EU leaders, is for the creation of vaccine certificates to help facilitate travel between member states.

The commission proposed that its so-called Digital Green Certificates, which should be free of charge, would be delivered to EU residents who can prove they have been vaccinated, but also to those who tested negative for the virus or have proof they recovered from it.

“Being vaccinated will not be a precondition to travel,” the commission said. “All EU citizens have a fundamental right to free movement in the EU and this applies regardless of whether they are vaccinated or not. The Digital Green Certificate will make it easier to exercise that right, also through testing and recovery certificates.”

So what does that mean for British holidaymakers? Here’s what we know so far.

When can Britons travel abroad?

Leisure travel, both domestic and international, is currently illegal in the UK. However, in his “roadmap” out of lockdown, prime minister Boris Johnson gave a date of 17 May as the earliest point from which we might be able to go on holiday abroad from England, providing coronavirus infection rates, hospitalisations and deaths have continued to fall as expected and the vaccination programme is progressing according to schedule.

Does that mean I can travel to Europe?

It depends on many factors. Although the EU-wide vaccination certification programme may not be up and running before summer - and currently is only being advertised as applying to citizens and residents of EU member states, a category which no longer covers the UK - other countries have indicated they would like to get reciprocal agreements up and running this spring to coincide with the UK’s potential lifting of restrictions.

For example, Greece, Cyprus, Spain and Portugal have all mooted dates in May for reopening to British tourists who have been fully vaccinated.

Will I need to have had both vaccine doses?

This is the other sticky point – although vaccination certification or “passport” schemes may well enable the restarting of tourism, they require the traveller to have received both jabs in order to qualify. As the UK is taking a staggered approach, with a gap of up to 12 weeks between vaccinations, many people may have only had their first dose (or indeed, neither of them) by 17 May.

By April, everyone aged 50 and over should have had (or been offered) their first dose of the vaccine, with those in their fifties receiving their second dose by mid-July. Meanwhile, the rest of the population of UK adults (barring priority groups such those with underlying health conditions and health and social care workers) will not receive a first jab until later – by the end of July – with the second delivered by the end of October. For this cohort of around 21 million people, summer holidays may be less feasible if countries are demanding vaccination certification for seamless entry.

However, some destinations have already made it clear that those who aren’t inoculated won’t be discriminated against, but that extra measures might be in place instead.

For example, Fernando Valdes, Spain’s tourism secretary of state, said the country will not bar tourists if they do not have proof they have been inoculated, but that vaccination passports would simply be part of a series of measures to allow British holidaymakers to return.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has also stressed that certification cannot lead to discrimination when it comes to travel, while Turkey has announced unvaccinated British travellers should be welcome this summer.

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