Covid vaccine passport scheme to be introduced in NI

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A Covid vaccine passport scheme is to be introduced in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health has announced.

The vaccine international certification scheme, which could make travel abroad easier for people who have had two doses, will go live by July 19 at the latest.

The department said it was working on delivering the scheme ahead of that date – potentially as early as July 5 – and said that should be possible providing cyber security checks are cleared successfully.

While no decision has been made on the use of the vaccine passports, they could also potentially be used for attendance at sports events and concerts.

The scheme will deliver alignment with the Irish Republic.

Vaccine certification processes are currently being developed by UK and EU authorities.

The department’s chief digital information officer Dan West said: “The aim is effectively to have a Covid-19 vaccine passport – internationally recognised proof a person has had both vaccine doses.

“This will complement the UK’s existing traffic light system for international travel, which can include PCR tests and quarantine rules, depending on the travel location.

“While final decisions have still to be taken on how and when these vaccine certificates will be used, they are expected to make foreign travel easier for people who have had both doses.

“Governments and businesses may also decide to use them in other circumstances, such as access to events and activities. Such decisions have still to be made here in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.”

Mr West added: “A lot of hard work is ongoing to deliver Northern Ireland’s scheme. Unlike other jurisdictions, we have not had the advantage of a pre-existing health service app. We are therefore building our system from scratch.

“We also want to make sure that rigorous cyber security checks are completed to protect against hackers, reflecting how seriously we take the protection of personal data.”

Northern Ireland’s vaccine certificates will in the first instance be in specialised hardcopy format. These will feature security and counterfeit protection features and a specialised printing process will be required.

A digital alternative to the hardcopy format will be available by mid-August. This will also support evidencing of negative PCR Covid tests, as an alternative to proof of vaccination.

The process of applying for and receiving hard copy certification is expected to take 10 days.

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