Some Britons who have been double-vaccinated abroad will soon be able to travel to the UK more easily as the government prepares to recognise jabs administered overseas.
Current restrictions mean only those who have been fully inoculated by the NHS are able to take advantage of avoiding quarantine if coming from countries graded amber under the traffic light system.
Hundreds of thousands of British citizens who are dual nationals or have been living or working abroad have still been forced to isolate for up to 10 days, but the rules are expected to be changed for some from August.
Those who have had both jabs in other countries but are registered with a GP in the UK will be able to apply to register these with the NHS – but the doses must have been made by either Moderna, Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech or Janssen.
The vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, signalled the move in a little-noticed response to an MP during a Commons debate last week.
He said: “By the end of this month, UK nationals who have been vaccinated overseas will be able to talk to their GP, go through what vaccine they have had, and have it registered with the NHS that they have been vaccinated.”
Zahawi said GPs would vet whether the jabs had been approved for use in the UK, with the more long-term goal of coordinating a commonly agreed vaccine standard with the World Health Organization and medicines’ regulators in the US and EU.
He also hinted that all travellers coming from abroad who had been double-vaccinated with a jab authorised in the UK could have their doses recognised – not just those who were registered with a British GP – saying: “We want to offer the same reciprocity as the 33 countries that recognise our [NHS] app, and that will also happen very soon.”
Ministers are expected to announce the change later this week as part of a review of the wider rules governing international travel due to be held before 31 July.
Given the NHS is a residency-based system, the number of people living overseas who are registered with a GP in the UK is likely to be fairly limited, leading to criticism that a tweak to the rules is “useless” for the millions of Britons living abroad for whom this will not make any significant change.
Expats who have been living outside the UK for some time and therefore are not registered with a GP (as they are told to deregister when they move abroad) will hope for a bigger overhaul of the rules later in the summer to also recognise their double-vaccination status.
Chris Goater, a spokesperson for the International Air Transport Association, said it was good news the UK appeared to be on the verge of “showing overdue recognition of vaccinated visitors” – but that it made no sense to restrict it to those with a UK GP.
He said: “Approved vaccines should be recognised as soon as possible not just for those from Europe but also on the crucial transatlantic routes, to help to put the UK aviation industry back on its feet.”
John Holland-Kaye, the chief executive of Heathrow airport, said “the travel sector is still the only part of the economy which is still under very tight controls by the government” and that there had been no “freedom day” for those who wanted to visit friends and relatives in another country.
The next update to the red, amber and green lists is not expected to happen until 5 August. Particular attention will be paid to the fate of France, which earlier this month ministers were advised to put on the red list over the spread of the Beta variant.
Instead, the government put France on what has become known as the “amber plus” list, meaning double-vaccinated travellers returning from the country are not able to avoid quarantine and must instead isolate for 10 days at home or use the “test to release” system after day five.