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What is an NHS Covid pass and when do I need to use it?

By Joe Sommerlad

Boris Johnson has ended the UK government’s “Plan B” social restrictions for dealing with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in England.

Speaking in the House of Commons in January, the prime minister said that working from home orders, guidance on mask-wearing in public places and presenting NHS Covid passes to enter crowded venues were all being scrapped as the New Year rise in infections waned without resulting in the wave of mass hospitalisations feared by experts.

“Venues and events will no longer be required by law to use the NHS Covid Pass,” the Department of Health elaborated on the latter point on the government’s website.

“The NHS Covid Pass can still be used on a voluntary basis as was previously the case in Plan A.”

The pass had been unpopular with many of Mr Johnson’s fellow Conservatives since its introduction, some of whom considered it an infringement of civil liberties, a stance Tory MP Marcus Fysh took to extreme lengths when he compared their implementation to Nazi Germany.

A significant backbench rebellion occurred on Tuesday 14 December when MPs voted to approve the Plan B restrictions in the House of Commons, the revolt also in part a protest against the PM’s increasingly frazzled and scandal-ridden leadership.

The Liberal Democrats likewise raised objections to the passes, accusing the government earlier in 2021 of introducing ID cards “by stealth” when the NHS app was updated and has since labelled them “illiberal and destructive”, warning that they “represent a massive change in the relationship between everyday people and their government”.

However, given that Sir Keir Starmer’s opposition Labour Party was always going to support the government’s position, believing it to be in the national interest, the mutiny failed to prevent their adoption.

To access your digital NHS Covid Pass, you need to have the free NHS app downloaded to your smartphone – and to be registered with a GP in England to be able to access it.

By simply signing into the app, you will be able to show proof of your Covid-19 vaccination or negative test status upon request, the information presented along with a QR code for scanning.

The code proving your vaccination is valid for 30 days from the moment you access it or download it as a PDF, after which you will need to refresh to obtain a new version.

A Covid Pass secured via a negative test result will meanwhile only last for 48 hours before a new version is needed (obtained via the same simple means).

If you are unable to use the app for any reason, you can also view your vaccination status on the NHS website or print a paper version at home before heading to your destination.

Those unable to access online services can also call 119 to request a letter to serve as evidence of their vaccination status instead.

Those unable to get vaccinated or tested for medical reasons can apply to the NHS for an exemption to stand in its place.

You can find more information on the government’s website.

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