It’s always annoying if your phone battery runs out while you’re traveling – but it’s even worse if broken technology means you can’t even start your trip.
An NHS England app halt on Wednesday left frustrated users unable to prove their Covid vaccination status at airport check-in, meaning many were unable to board flights. Others have been turned away from places that require evidence that people have been double stabbed.
Although the NHS England app was restored after about four hours, the outage highlighted the problems that can result from placing a single central system at the heart of modern life. In an age when people expect their online accounts to work immediately, a single app run by a single government that briefly goes offline can shut down international travel for much of the population.
This issue is particularly pressing as Wales and Scotland have begun to implement mandatory checks – also known as “Covid passports” – at the doors of certain venues such as nightclubs. If people in those countries can’t prove their vaccination status during the evening hours due to a technical issue, big events may be left without any customers.
In Wales, where the policy took effect this week, door staff at nightclubs have already reported an argument with students who misunderstood the rules, claiming their phone battery ran out and were unable to show proof of vaccination, or were struggling to download a vaccination guide before the last entry.
Scotland, which developed its own independent app before introducing a scheme for mandatory vaccine checks next week, has also had issues with the technology. The first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, apologized and said the “initial backlog” of users unable to access their health records had now been removed.
Although Boris Johnson – under pressure from Tory MPs – has abandoned plans for official vaccination passports in England, some buildings have voluntarily requested either proof of Covid vaccination or a negative test to access. However, this has been imposed on an incomplete basis. At Labor’s annual conference in Brighton, there were visual checks that attendees had a QR code but it was not run through the verification system.
People traveling from the UK are used to showing QR codes generated by the service, which can usually be called up at any moment. However, many Apple iPhone users are not aware that it is possible to save a copy of the NHS England vaccination certificate in their Apple Wallet, ensuring it is always available offline and avoiding the risks of service downtime.
Hard copies are also available, although governments are doing their best to encourage people to use cheaper numerical equivalents.
The biggest problem is for people currently traveling across Europe, as countries increasingly demand evidence of double vaccination to enter bars, restaurants and public places. Brexit means Britons have so far been excluded from the EU-wide vaccination passport system, with many finding QR codes to prove vaccination produced by UK NHS apps unacceptable in local settings.
Talks are still underway about fully integrating British data into the EU’s Covid digital certificate scheme, but in the meantime people planning a holiday in Europe are being advised to prepare for technical difficulties – and it is advisable to check in advance if they want to be allowed into the venues. Until then, many Britons traveling in Europe had put their British status on “TousAntiCovid” – an app produced by the French government that recognizes NHS vaccination certificates.