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Thursday, February 2, 2023

Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and Heathrow Trial Fast-Tracking Vaccinated Arrivals

British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Heathrow have joined forces to prove it’s possible to quickly and easily verify those arriving into the U.K. who are fully vaccinated – an identification process already in place for outbound travel to several countries. 

The new U.K. proving trial, enabling inbound travellers to present their fully vaccinated status, will support the British government to move forward with its plans to remove quarantine for double jabbed passengers entering the U.K. from ‘amber list’ countries. Most destinations are on the government’s amber list, with green being reserved for a small number of countries that the government perceives as low risk destinations, while red listed countries are those with  large outbreaks, variants of concern or poor vaccination takeup.

The initiative will see fully vaccinated volunteers traveling on selected flights from Athens, Los Angeles, Montego Bay and New York to London Heathrow showing proof of their vaccine status. The trial aims to reassure the government that airlines and airports can check vaccine status upstream and away from the border, ensuring no further pressure in U.K. immigration halls. British Airways customers will be able to access a discounted rate for the mandatory arrivals tests.

Internationally recognized vaccination credentials will be accepted in the proving trial including the NHS app, CDC card, U.S. state-level digital certification and 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.

To date, 86% of U.K. adults have had a first dose of a Covid vaccine, with 64% fully vaccinated. Data from Public Health England has shown two doses of the vaccines offer 79% protection against becoming ill from the Delta variant and reduces the likelihood of needing hospitalization by 96%.

In the U.S., more than 157 million people have been fully vaccinated representing 58% of the adult population and traveler numbers are returning to pre-pandemic levels.

Some countries, like France, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Cyprus and Malta, already accept fully vaccinated travelers, including U.S. residents, without the need for quarantine. The U.S. also allows its fully vaccinated residents to avoid self-isolation. The British 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.

To date, and compared to other countries, the U.K. has been cautious about reopening international travel. Representatives from the travel industry have been clear about the consequences for the U.K.’s economy and jobs of not opening the corridor quickly enough, with hundreds taking part in a day of action on June 23. By capitalizing on the country’s vaccine dividend, the trial could pave the way for a return to pre-pandemic traveler numbers in the U.K., allowing the country to catch-up with the EU and U.S.

“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,” said John Holland-Kaye, CEO of Heathrow Airport. “In addition to this, the U.K. government must make progress on reopening travel between the U.S. 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 U.S., the only country with whom the U.K. has a trade surplus. New research demonstrates just how critical it is to the U.K 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.”

Read the announcement at British Airways

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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