The NHS COVID Pass was introduced in Wales on 11 October 2021 following a tight Senedd vote – with 28 votes for and 27 against. Since then, the passes have been extended to include cinemas, concert halls and theatres, as well as nightclubs and certain large events. This article outlines the role of the NHS COVID pass and how people can go about in getting one.
What does the NHS COVID Pass cover?
A key distinction to make about the NHS COVID Pass in Wales, is that is it not specifically a “vaccine passport”.
Whilst a vaccine passport would only show whether a person is fully or partially vaccinated, the NHS COVID Pass in Wales is a way to show evidence of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or have had a negative lateral flow test within the previous 48 hours.
A number of countries around the world, including Israel, France and Switzerland have adopted a form of vaccine or COVID pass to enable travel and access to large scale events.
As of 15 November 2021, people over the age of 18 in Wales are required to show their COVID-19 pass to attend:
There are a number of event exemptions, such as protests and mass participation sporting events, where the pass is not required. Additionally, anybody under the age of 18 or people working, volunteering or performing in a venue does not need to provide evidence of vaccination or negative test
How do you get a COVID Pass?
Anyone who is aged 16 or over can get an NHS COVID Pass if:
A COVID booster vaccination is not required to get an NHS COVID Pass in Wales. However, vaccination boosters have been added to the digital NHS COVID Pass, which will allow people in Wales to demonstrate proof of a booster when travelling abroad.
An NHS COVID Pass in Wales is accessed from the NHS UK website, using an NHS login. To get a pass, a photo of a valid UK passport, full UK driving licence or full European driving licence needs to be uploaded.
A COVID pass can then be generated using a smart phone or computer. The pass barcode expires after 30 days but automatically updates. A paper certificate, which only provides evidence of full vaccination and not evidence of a negative lateral flow test, is available for anyone without photographic ID.
Anyone registered with an English GP but who lives in Wales has to access the NHS App service for England, as NHS Wales would not have access to their vaccination record.
For people who are unable to access the online system a telephone service has been provided. However, it has been highlighted in Plenary that there have been issues in people having difficulties accessing the phoneline.
What next for the COVID Pass in Wales and across the UK?
The introduction of the NHS COVID pass in Wales, and elsewhere, has been controversial. Some have argued that the passes are a valid alternative to lockdown. Others have questioned their effectiveness in reducing community transmission of COVID.
The Welsh Government has made public the sources of information used to evidence and inform its decisions regarding the NHS COVID Pass.
The Scottish Government introduced a vaccine passport in October 2021. Initially the pass confirmed the receipt of two doses of a COVID vaccine but from 6 December 2021, it will also allow people to show proof of a negative lateral flow test. The passport is required in nightclubs and large venues, however there are currently no plans to extend it to cover hospitality or arts venues.
In Northern Ireland, the mandatory domestic COVID vaccination certificate will be enforced from 13 December. Unlike in Wales and Scotland, the certificate will also cover hospitality settings from the start.
The UK Parliament voted on 14 December 2021 to introduce the requirement for a NHS COVID Pass in order to enter nightclubs or large events. The Pass shows proof of being fully vaccinated (2 doses of an approved vaccine or one of the single-dose Janssen vaccine) or a negative PCR or rapid lateral flow test within the last 48 hours.
With the emergence of the Omicron variant, it is possible that the Welsh Government will introduce tougher restrictions over Christmas. Scotland’s First Minister has already advised people in Scotland to limit socialising to three other households.
The NHS COVID pass has been one measure the Welsh Government has used to keep businesses open, whilst also helping to control the spread of the virus. But whether the NHS COVID pass, or even utilising the option of extending its use to hospitality settings, will be enough to stop the spread of the new variant this winter remains unclear.
The Welsh Government will carry out its next review on Friday 17 December.
Article by Božo Lugonja, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament