Trips to Europe over October half-term could become easier for British travellers after Brussels said a technical tie-up with the EU ensuring the NHS Covid pass is recognised across over 40 countries would be “going live soon”.
In some European countries, such as the Netherlands, tourists from the UK have faced constant Covid tests as the NHS app proving full vaccination status is not recognised at the Dutch border or in its bars, restaurants and museums.
But nearly three months after making an application to the European Commission to join the EU-wide scheme, a spokesperson in Brussels indicated that the wait would soon be over, though without giving a firm date. The spokesperson said: “The commission received the UK’s application on 28 July. Significant progress was made on the technical front with the aim of going live soon.”
The decision will ensure that all 27 member states and 16 non-EU countries already tied up with the bloc’s system will automatically allow entry to visitors from England, Scotland and Wales carrying the NHS Covid pass, which contains a QR code. The tie-up will fold data held by the UK’s NHS app into the EU Digital Covid certificate (EUDCC), allowing other countries to access users’ vaccine status and test results at the border. The NHS Covid pass would also be recognised by hospitality premises in countries where proof of vaccination is necessary for entry to bars, restaurants and cultural events.
The UK government is also changing its policy, as part of a reciprocal arrangement with the EU, in order to recognise the vaccination status of people who have been jabbed with doses from different brands.
The lack of “equivalence” status between the NHS app and EU system has been a thorn in the side of British tourists seeking to visit a range of European destinations and for those people who were vaccinated in the UK but who live abroad. The problem has become particularly acute as an increasing number of EU governments have started requiring a Covid pass for entrance to events or hospitality venues.
As of 25 September, people vaccinated in the UK but visiting or living in the Netherlands, for example, face having to show proof of a negative coronavirus test taken in the previous 24 hours to enter a restaurant, bar, museum, cultural event or sports stadium. In Switzerland, expats spoke of being unable to attend sporting facilities, including gyms, because the NHS Covid pass is regarded as invalid.
The NHS Covid pass has been accepted unilaterally by 19 EU countries, including France and Italy, as proof of vaccination at the border, but even in some of these countries recognition was not always automatic for those seeking to go to a bar or restaurant.
The equivalence decision has been long in the making. Switzerland, Ukraine, Turkey and North Macedonia all secured such status within a period of five and eight weeks of applying. The UK opened talks in early June and made its formal application at the end of July but officials were asked to provide additional information in August by the European Commission.
A UK government spokesperson said: “We remain confident that our application will go through shortly. While the application is considered, member states are still able to decide individually to accept UK Covid certificates.”
Since 2 August, visitors from the EU who had been doubly vaccinated with a single EMA approved vaccine were not obliged to quarantine on entry to the UK.