Officials swamped by thousands of applications warn they may not be processed in time
Would-be holidaymakers have had their travel plans thrown into disarray after they received an email from the Department of Health warning that their ‘vaccine passports’ may not be ready in time.
On Monday the Health Minister told the Assembly the scheme had received more than 4,500 applications in its first few days of operation.
Robin Swann said his officials had been working on two travel schemes: a comprehensive certificate system (CCS) and an interim one in the meantime to allow people to travel to countries which require proof of double vaccination for entry.
The comprehensive solution was expected to be available before July 19.
The interim certificates, which he said would expire on July 20, were being made available from three vaccination centres.
The free scheme went live last Friday on the NI Direct website.
But now the Department of Health has issued an email to certificate applicants warning them they may have to make alternative arrangements.
It states: “Every effort is being made to produce Covid vaccination certificates for all those travelling to Spain as well as other countries where vaccine certificates are needed as an entry requirement to avoid quarantine.
“However, due to the volume of applications submitted with departure dates in the coming days, we cannot guarantee production of a certificate for those visiting Spain where Covid tests are also an option.
“Please regularly check your email address provided in the application process to see if you are allocated a collection time, if so then a certificate has been produced for your collection. If not, then you will need to rely on your PCR test.
“Up until your travel please continue to check the travel guidance from the Spanish authorities to ensure you are compliant with the appropriate testing requirements and other registration requirements for entering Spain.”
The email also advises that “you should have already factored into your travel plans to arrange PCR testing as the Spanish travel guidance suggests”.
One man planning to travel to Spain on July 17 expressed fury that he may now lose out on his holiday — as well as losing money already paid out for his trip.
“I applied for the certificate last Friday following the department’s announcement,” he said.
“I’m due to fly out to Spain on July 17 with the remaining balance of my holiday to be paid on July 10.
“That all is now up in the air in light of this email as I don’t want the added expense of paying for PCR tests, which there is also a shortage of at the moment.”
In response, the Department of Health said: “Amid high levels of demand the Department of Health is continuing to provide short-term written confirmation of full vaccination to all travellers who must have proof of vaccination to allow them to travel to a particular country.
“Because of the need to prioritise these travellers and due to the volume of applications submitted with departure dates in the coming days, the department cannot guarantee production of a certificate for those visiting countries where proof of vaccination is not mandatory, and where negative Covid tests are accepted as an alternative to vaccination certification.
“The department reiterates its advice to those travelling to countries, such as Spain, where an alternative to the vaccination certificate exists, to follow travel guidance from the country in question to facilitate entry."