As vaccine regimes for COVID-19 are rolled out around the world, individual countries continue to impose entry requirements for foreign travelers (and sometimes even citizens returning from abroad) aimed at containing the spread of the virus. As states work to vaccinate entire populations, and some (especially small countries) achieve high vaccination rates, the concept of mandatory COVID-19 vaccine passports for travelers has begun to look less like a theoretical concept and more like an eventual reality. Certain states—such as the United Kingdom, are already experimenting with COVID passports for their domestic populations. If you are considering travel to UK, you may be wondering whether you will need to obtain a vaccine in order to enter. This blog will therefore answer the following questions related to travel to UK during the COVID-19 pandemic, including, “Will vaccines be essential for travel in UK in future?” and, “Will airlines require vaccination on upcoming flights to the country?” Before going over vaccine checks in UK, we will first discuss more general questions including, “What is the COVID-19 vaccine?” and “What is a vaccine passport?”.

What is the COVID-19 Vaccine?

  • The COVID-19 vaccine is a shot that provides a high degree of immunity against the coronavirus. 
  • People who are vaccinated against COVID are much less likely to be infected with the virus and infect other people. 
  • There are currently a number of different COVID-19 vaccinations available, which are being distributed around the world. The most common vaccines currently available are the following: 
    • Moderna
    • Pfizer-BioNTech
    • Johnson&Johnson
    • AstraZeneca
    • Novavax 
  • The leading physicians around the world are encouraging all people to seek out a vaccine wherever available. According to medical experts, vaccinating the majority of the global population is the only way to bring about an end to the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure global freedom of movement. 

What is a Vaccine Passport?

  • COVID-19 vaccine passports are essentially records or proof of your immunization against the disease. They are called passports because they would theoretically allow you entry into certain countries that make proof of vaccination an entry requirement for travelers. 
  • Please note that because COVID passports are not yet in circulation, there is much that is unclear about the concept. For example, it is unclear whether a COVID passport would be a physical document (like an actual passport) or a digital document (for example, something that would show up on your phone). Most likely, different countries will likely have different type of COVID passports, with many offering digital versions and some perhaps offering stamps on citizens’ passports.
  • While there will likely be a number of different forms of COVID-19 passports, they will all be universal in that they will show proof of a traveler’s vaccination against COVID. 
  • By streamlining proof of vaccination, countries will theoretically be able to have greater control over the spread of their virus, at least domestically. Additionally, possessing a COVID passport could allow travelers to avoid onerous pre and post-entry requirements, such as pre-flight coronavirus testing, mandatory quarantines, and other expensive and confusing requirements that exist for travelers currently. 

Travel to UK during the COVID-19 pandemic

  • At the moment, vaccines are not yet required in order to travel to travel to UK countries. This means that you do not currently need to have been vaccinated for COVID in order to enter England, Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales. 
  • Currently, the UK has a travel ban on 39 “Red List” countries, which means that if you are a foreigner who has previously travelled to or within one of the countries on this list within 10 days of attempting to visit the UK, you will not be allowed to enter Britain.
  • Please note that British and Irish citizens and residents are exempt from the “Red list” rule, meaning that if you identified as belonging to one of those categories of persons, you will not be denied entry to the country. However, you will be subject to strict quarantine upon arrival. And unlike travelers arriving from non-red list countries, who are able to quarantine at home or other places of their choosing, travelers from red-list countries must submit to quarantine at officially designated hotels, known as “quarantine hotels”.
  • At the moment, all travelers to the UK, including British nationals must do the following in order to enter the country: 
    • Test negative for COVID-19 at least three (3) days prior to leaving for the UK.
    • Fill out a passenger locater form. 
    • Submit to a mandatory 10-day quarantine post-arrival.
    • Submit to two (2) pre-scheduled coronavirus tests throughout your quarantine period. 
  • In addition, individuals who have been vaccinated are not exempt from the above requirement to get tested pre-and post-arrival, and undergo quarantine. 
  • Please note that if you test negative for COVID you should NOT proceed with your travel to the UK. 
  • Please note that results for pre-flight COVID-19 tests must written in English, Spanish, or French, in order to be accepted by the UK government. 
  • Failure to submit to the above requirements could result in you facing the following:
    • Being denied entry into the country.
    • A fine of up to £500 GBP. 
    • Criminal punishment (including imprisonment).
  • Once you have arrived in the country, you must abide by the domestic UK lockdown terms and conditions. Failure to do this could also result in fines, or even imprisonment in severe cases. 

Will vaccines be essential for travel in UK in Future?

  • While vaccines are not currently required in order to travel to the UK, it is possible that the country will impose a vaccine passport regime on the entry of foreigners going forward. 
  • At the moment, vaccinated individuals in the UK do not have special privileges in the context of the national lockdown the country is currently undergoing. This means that even if you received a COVID vaccine, you must still abide by all of the rules relating to gatherings, face coverings, and enforced distancing. 
  • The UK, however, which has vaccinated almost half of its population, is considering vaccine passports for its own citizens going forward. Under the initiative, which is being discussed, UK residents might have to obtain a vaccine passport in order to enter pubs throughout the country. While the government has expressed interest in the idea, it has faced intense resistance from citizens who have rejected the vaccine, and those who worry about the impact of essentially segregating large portions of the population. 
  • However the question remains, in the future, “Will airlines require vaccination of travelers as a condition for entry to the UK?”.
  • There is currently no upcoming initiative to enforce vaccine checks in UK for travelers arriving in the country. At the moment, not enough people are vaccinated around the world for such an initiative to be enforced. If such an initiative were to be proposed going forward, it would likely not occur for several months, probably sometime in the fall. 
  • While some countries, like Estonia, are allowing travelers to the country to present evidence of being vaccinated as way to avoid having to go into quarantine post-arrival, it is unlikely going forward that any country will impose vaccination as a condition of entering. A percentage of many European domestic populations remain resistant to getting vaccinated, which means there is likely to be domestic push-back against efforts to make vaccination a condition for anyone, even foreigners.  
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