Children to get Covid vaccine passports in time for half-term holidays

·4 min read
NHS Covid vaccine passport - Matthew Horwood/Getty Images
NHS Covid vaccine passport - Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

Children are set to be given access to digital Covid passes in time for half term, as the Government prepares to announce relaxations to travel rules on Monday.

Ministers are expected to agree to scrap a range of measures at a meeting of the Covid-O committee on Monday morning, including tests for travellers arriving in the UK.

The changes are likely to be implemented in early February, allowing British holidaymakers to take advantage of the more lenient rules over the next school holidays.

Children aged 12 to 15 will finally be granted access to the NHS Covid pass app. At present, they are excluded from using it, thus curbing their ability to easily prove their vaccination status.

This presents issues for families travelling to countries such as France, Italy and Spain, which require all over-12s to be double vaccinated, or else face tougher restrictions such as quarantine or daily testing.

Parents are forced to request an NHS letter confirming the vaccination status of their under-16s if they wish to evade these measures. The letters, which can be sought using the NHS 119 hotline or online, contain a QR code like in the app.

However, Steve Brine, a former health minister, branded the process “cumbersome” and called on the Government to “urgently find a way” for teenagers to be treated with “fairness and parity” when seeking to travel abroad.

The Prime Minister has also stressed that “ease of travel” should be one of the benefits of receiving the coronavirus vaccine.

A Government source stressed the relaxations were not “formally decided” and had yet to pass through Covid-O on Monday, but were strongly expected to be approved.

“It’s been difficult for some teens to go abroad because they can’t prove they’ve been jabbed or had a test. Making Covid passes accessible for them will make family holidays a bit easier,” the source said.

The Telegraph revealed last week that families had been forced to cancel holidays next month due to the “restrictive” vaccine passport demands.

Parents made the decision to pull out of, or postpone, overseas trips after spending weeks trying – without success – to secure proof of their children’s vaccination status or confirmation that they have recently recovered from Covid.

A “digital solution” to the problem was initially meant to be rolled out for under-16s at the beginning of this year. Boris Johnson hinted last week that Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, would be making a statement about it “in the next few days”.

The move to scrap tests for travellers returning to the UK will meanwhile save a family of four about £120 on a trip overseas. Theresa May, the former prime minister, and Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee, have been among senior Tories heaping pressure on the Government to abolish the costly measures.

Travel companies have reported increases of up to 200 per cent in visits to their sites or bookings since Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, first signalled that tests for inbound travellers would be dropped.

Currently, vaccinated people travelling to England must book a coronavirus test in advance to be taken on day two after they arrive. They do not need to quarantine once they are in England.

If travellers are not fully vaccinated, they must take a test up to 48 hours before their journey, and book two tests to be taken on days two and eight after they arrive. Once in England, they must quarantine for 10 days.

It will remain in the gift of other countries to set their own terms of entry for British tourists, including mandating vaccination or testing.

Airlines call for an end to all Covid travel curbs

Airline bosses will on Monday ask the Government to go even further and rule out future border closures or flight bans in response to variants of concern that are yet to emerge.

The chief executives of the UK’s largest airlines want an end to all coronavirus-related travel restrictions. They have argued in a letter to ministers that omicron is in retreat and evidence shows that travel restrictions have a “limited effect” in preventing the spread of Covid-19.

Their letter is signed by the heads of Ryanair, easyJet, Loganair, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Jet2, as well as the chief executives of Tui and Airlines UK, the airline trade body.

They said that travel restrictions have had a devastating effect on the UK’s economy, with marginal health benefits.

“This has meant fewer business trips and less investment in our economy, fewer chances for holidays and to reunite with friends and family abroad, and fewer international visitors,” the airline bosses wrote.

They added: “VisitBritain estimate nearly £50 billion in tourism spend from overseas has been lost since the pandemic began – all resulting in less tax revenue to fund public services including the NHS.

The recovery of the UK’s aviation industry is vital; not just to the more than half a million people working in it, but to everyone who lives and works in the UK.”