Customers arriving at London Heathrow will be invited to take part in a proving trial to support the UK Government in lifting restrictions for travellers arriving from ‘amber list’ countries, with fast checking of Covid-19 vaccination status
British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and London’s Heathrow airport have joined forces with the aim of proving it is possible to quickly and easily verify which passengers arriving into the UK are fully vaccinated – an identification process already in place for outbound travel to several countries. The trial will enable inbound travellers to present their fully vaccinated status, supporting the UK Government as it seeks to move forward with plans to remove quarantine for ‘double jabbed’ passengers entering the UK from ‘amber list’ countries.
The initiative will initially fully vaccinated volunteers travelling on selected flights from Athens, Los Angeles, Montego Bay and New York to London Heathrow show proof of their vaccine status upon arrival. The trial aims to reassure Government that airlines and airports can check vaccine status upstream and away from the border, ensuring no further congestion in UK immigration halls. Those taking part in the trial will be able to use a dedicated arrivals lane at the border, and British Airways customers will be able to access a discounted rate for the mandatory arrivals tests.
Internationally recognised vaccination credentials will be accepted in the proving trial, including the UK’s NHS app, the USA’s CDC card, US state-level digital certification and the EU Digital Covid Credential. British Airways will also support customers’ vaccine verification through the VeriFLY app, and Virgin Atlantic customers can verify their vaccine certificate through a new digital uploader tool, developed in partnership with Delta Air Lines and backed by TrustAssure technology. As the proof-of-concept develops, the options for customers to show vaccine status will rapidly be expanded, across physical, digital and integrated formats, including the IATA Travel Pass.
The UK has undertaken a successful vaccine programme, which its Government said would lead to the end of Covid restrictions. To date, 86% of UK adults have had a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, with 64% fully vaccinated. Data from Public Health England has shown that two doses of the vaccines offer 79% protection against becoming ill from the Delta variant of Covid-19, and reduces the likelihood of needing hospitalisation by 96%.
British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Heathrow are of the view that, despite this success in vaccination, the UK is ‘failing to reap the economic and social rewards’, falling behind countries like France, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Cyprus and Malta, all of which accept fully vaccinated travellers, including US residents, without the need for quarantine. The US also allows its fully vaccinated residents to avoid self-isolation. The UK Government’s own transparency data also continues to show very low positivity in test results from ‘green’ and ‘amber’ country arrivals, with just 0.4% testing positive, and none of them had a variant of concern.
Sean Doyle, British Airways CEO and chairman said, “We need to act quickly to protect jobs, re-build the UK economy and reunite loved ones. We are already helping our customers show proof of their vaccination status when travelling to a number of other countries outside the UK which require it, and we’re confident we can make this happen for entry to Britain too, very quickly. We look forward to providing the data that proves it’s simple for fully vaccinated status to be verified and to the Government meeting its commitment to get the country moving again.”
In the US, more than 157 million people have been fully vaccinated to date – including 58% of US adults – with domestic flying returning to pre-pandemic levels.
Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic added, “To reap the benefits of the UK’s world-leading vaccine roll out, the UK Government must act now to remove self-isolation for fully vaccinated passengers arriving from ‘amber’ countries, and no later than the domestic reopening on 19th July. Our proof-of-concept trial on selected US and Caribbean routes demonstrates our readiness as an industry to rapidly operationalise the new policy, and work with Government and authorities to ensure it is smoothly implemented at pace, supporting the reopening of the Transatlantic corridor, without which £23m is lost each day from the UK economy.
“The UK is already falling behind US and EU and a continued overly cautious approach towards international travel will further impact economic recovery and the 500,000 UK jobs that are at stake,” added Weiss.
Representatives from the travel industry have expressed views about the consequences for the UK’s economy and jobs of not opening the corridor quickly enough, with hundreds taking part in a day of action on 23 June. Heathrow has released new research from UK-based economics consultancy, CEBR, which states the importance of aviation to the Government’s ambitions for Global Britain, which could help the aviation industry deliver a £204 billion trade boost that could benefit every area of the UK. Heathrow has warned that this cannot be realised unless the UK’s aviation industry is supported by Government policies to resume flying as soon as possible.
‘By capitalising on the country’s vaccine dividend, ministers can help to deliver this economic stimulus for exporters across Britain, ensuring the UK retains its competitive edge as the country comes out of lockdown’ read a statement from Heathrow.
On Monday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson restated that this important step to exempt fully vaccinated travellers from self-isolation would happen ‘later this summer’, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps set to provide more detail this week. British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Heathrow hope their proof-of-concept will encourage the Government to introduce exemptions for fully vaccinated travellers no later than 19 July, allowing the UK to catch-up with the EU and USA, which have already introduced similar schemes.
John Holland-Kaye, CEO of Heathrow said, “This pilot will allow us to show that pre-departure and arrival checks of vaccination status can be carried out safely, so that fully vaccinated passengers can avoid quarantine from the 19th July. In addition to this, the UK Government must make progress on reopening travel between the US after a designated taskforce was established to look at this back at the G7. Heathrow is the main port for trade in goods and services with the USA, the only country with whom the UK has a trade surplus. New research today demonstrates just how critical it is to the UK economy to get the passenger planes that carry those exports off the ground. This is a vital step towards delivering the Government’s ambitions for Global Britain and they now need to act fast.”