While it is still unclear exactly which countries UK citizens can now legally travel to and what quarantine and testing regime is necessary on return, the UK public has voted with its fingers to download the de facto proof of vaccination app.
The UK government first mooted the idea of using an app as a digital vaccination passport in April 2021. On 12 May, the official National Health Service (NHS) App was chosen as the digital mechanism by which a citizen’s Covid vaccination status will be indicated.
The NHS App is currently used by patients to book appointments, order repeat prescriptions and view medical records. It came as a surprise to some that the general NHS App was selected to indicate Covid-19 status, and not the country’s dedicated Covid-19 contact-tracing app which, after a catalogue of delays, missteps and a complete technological volte-face, was officially launched on 24 September 2020 – over four months later than originally proposed.
Users of the NHS App, which is available to UK citizens aged 13 or over registered with a GP in England, are now able to access their Covid-19 vaccination status. This proof of vaccination feature has been added to the NHS App to satisfy requirements of entry to bars, museums and other venues in the UK and abroad.
Even as it was making its announcement, the UK government emphasised that, at present, not many countries were accepting the NHS App as proof of vaccination. It advised that, for the time being, most people would still need to follow other rules when travellin abroad, such as obtaining a negative pre-departure test.
Yet despite these concerns, data from mobile measurement specialist AppAnnie revealed that the NHS App has seen a surge in downloads over the past few weeks, beginning on 29 April 2021 when downloads climbed 265% compared with the average daily downloads of the previous two weeks. Downloads reached a daily peak on 12 May, at nearly 53,000 new downloads in the UK, and maintained a high level of 45,000 on 17 May, more than twice the daily average of the 30 days prior.
The data also showed that on 17 May, just after it was announced that the NHS App could be used as a vaccine passport, daily downloads hit the number one spot on the Apple App Store and maintained the lead on Google Play.
As it was releasing the UK figures, App Annie also published download details for the French Vite Ma Dose Covid tracker app. It said the app had performed “exceptionally well” in recent weeks and was the second most downloaded iPhone app in France on 12 May. The app first topped utilities app downloads on 7 May and tools apps on 9 May, and was ranked second among all apps and games downloads in France on Google Play from 13-15 May.
Read more about vaccine passports
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- Privacy campaigners warn that vaccine passports may turn out to be discriminatory and invasive, while technologists agree careful consideration must be given to their design.
- Nordic countries advance plans for digital Covid-19 vaccination passports in a bid to kick-start their economies.