Covid passports: How to get one, how to use one and can it be faked?

By Jordan Kenny & Peter Hamill
BBC News NI

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,

It is doubtful Covid passports will be legally enforced before mid-December, as there will be a 14-day grace period

Covid-19 vaccine passports are likely to be introduced in Northern Ireland on 29 November, according to the Department of Health.

Their use will see people providing a passport or proof of a negative Covid test consequence to access venues like nightclubs, pubs and restaurants.

A two-week grace period to allow time for people to adjust to the change will last until 13 December.

But where do you get one, how do you use it and when do you use it?

About 280,000 travel passes, which can be used to activate domestic certificates, have already been issued, according to Dr Eddie O’Neill from the Department of Health.

He told BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme that the majority of the public would accept that the introduction of the passport scheme was “for a good reason”.

How do you get one?

To begin an application for a Covid certificate you must first set up an account on the NI Direct website. If you do not already have one, this will require you to verify your identity with photo ID.

You must then download the COVIDCertNI app.

After logging in, you will be able to apply for a travel certificate. These have been in operation in Northern Ireland since July.

Once your travel certificate has been approved, you will be able to upgrade and activate a domestic certificate.

Image caption,

Domestic certificates have three elements, a QR code, a selfie and an HSC logo

When activating your domestic certificate, you will be asked to take a selfie which will then be seen alongside the QR code each time you present your pass.

You will be provided with the domestic certificate “within minutes”, according to Dr O’Neill.

People who do not have smartphones will be able to apply for a paper version of the certificate by calling 0300 200 7814 between 08:00 and 20:00 GMT Monday to Sunday.

Those with a paper certificate will be required to show photo ID when presenting it to prove their identity.

Once identity checks have been completed, it may take up to 10 working days for the printed certificate to arrive, the NI Direct website says.

Which certificate do I use – travel or domestic?

Once your domestic certificate has been approved, you will have two certificates on your app.

The domestic certificate is to be used when visiting any venue that requires it within the UK.

The travel certificate should be used anywhere outside the UK.

What venues will ask to see certificates?

It is understood the measure would apply for access to:

  • Hospitality venues which serve food and drink
  • Cinemas, theatres, concert halls and conference centres
  • Indoor events with 500 or more attendees with some or all of the audience not typically seated
  • Outdoor events with 4,000 or more attendees with some or all of the audience not typically seated
  • Events where more than 10,000 people will be present in spite of of whether they are seated

“It’s basically high-risk venues where [the Northern Ireland Executive] thinks the risk of transmission is higher,” said Dr O’Neill.

What do venues need to do?

Hospitality venues and other businesses where passes will be required for entry are able to download the COVIDCert Check NI app on smartphones or tablets.

The app allows QR codes from both the travel and domestic certificates to be scanned.

If the QR code is verified, the characterize will show a green screen containing a tick.

If the QR code is not verified, the characterize will show a red screen containing a cross.

What information can door staff see when they examine my QR code?

Once they have scanned the QR code, staff using the COVIDCert Check NI app will only see either a green tick or a red cross, depending on whether or not the certificate has been accepted.

Domestic certificates characterize the selfie you will have taken when applying for it, which staff will be able to use to verify your identity.

Will other types of Covid certificate be accepted?

The COVIDCert Check NI app accepts EU travel certs, in addition as the NHS vaccine certificates used in Scotland, England and Wales.

Can the certificates be faked?

Certificates proving that someone has recovered from Covid-19 will also be provided by the Department of Health, according to Dr O’Neill.

However, the announcement about the introduction of both recovery and vaccine certificates has raised questions about fraud and if they could be faked.

Dr O’Neill said that about 30 applications have been made so far presenting fraudulent Covid-19 vaccine cards.

Image source, Getty Images

The QR code in the CovidCertNI app, along with a number of other measures, has been designed to prevent fraud.

As the screen of the smartphone is moved, the shading on the HSC logo will change, allowing staff to see it is not a screenshot.

The QR code displayed on the certificates also updates itself once a minute.

“If you take a screenshot and try to send it to one of your friends to use, the scanner will detect that it is fake,” said Dr O’Neill.

Will the app work on my device?

Both apps released require operating system iOS 9.0 or later to function on iPhones, iPod Touch and iPads.

For Android devices, the apps require operating system 5.0 or later.

The apps are obtainable to download for free on Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store.

How did we get to this point?

High-level discussions about introducing mandatory Covid passports for domestic use in Northern Ireland have been taking place since late summer.

At that stage, few of the political parties supported the idea. In September, the SDLP’s Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon hypothesizedv the move to other executive colleagues.

It was voted down at that stage, with ministers instead opting to put in advice around vaccine certification mitigations but this was not legally enforceable.

Ms Mallon and the Alliance Party’s Justice Minister Naomi Long both said they wanted to see compulsory vaccine passports being introduced ahead of the nightclub sector reopening in Northern Ireland on 31 October, when social distancing rules were also scrapped in hospitality venues.

In mid-October, Stormont ministers published a contingency plan which referred to the “possible” deployment of Covid-19 position certification in “higher risk settings” but said it would require agreement from the executive.

On 1 November, the Department of Health released the COVIDCert Check NI app to allow businesses to examine vaccine certificates “voluntary use” of vaccine checks in hospitality and entertainment venues.

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