Malta turns away Britons with NHS app and demands official vaccine letter

Holidaymakers faced travel chaos on Wednesday as Malta refused to accept the NHS app as proof of vaccination and demanded Britons bring an official letter.

Travellers were refused boarding when they turned up at Heathrow airport unless they had the printed letters from the NHS to prove their vaccination status.

It came as Malta opened up as a new green list country but only to travellers from the UK aged 12 and above and who have been double jabbed with a recognised Covid vaccine.

The letters take five days, on average, from being requested which means holidaymakers face further uncertainty unless the problem is resolved.

One passenger said he was “gutted” after saving for more than a year for the holiday and being refused boarding. “They didn’t give us a grace period. They just said they were not letting me through [the boarding gates],” he said. “I haven’t got a holiday. I have to take the train home now.”

The Maltese health ministry blamed “technical problems” on the UK, saying it failed to provide a “verifier” app to allow border control authorities to check the digital vaccine certificates. It warned it would take an undisclosed number of days to fix it, leaving thousands of passengers in limbo.

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Holidaymakers sent Twitter messages to the British High Commission for Malta stating that the policy meant their trips could not go ahead as planned. Mark Holland, of Hove, East Sussex, wrote: “I travel in under three days, and have no time to request a letter.”

It compounds travel complications after Malta imposed a 14-day quarantine on unvaccinated Britons just hours after being added to the UK’s green list last Thursday.

Children aged five to 11 can travel to Malta if they are accompanying their fully vaccinated parents or legal guardian, but they must show evidence of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours before arrival. No test is required for those aged under five.

However, the requirement for UK arrivals for those aged 12 to 17 to be fully vaccinated is effectively an outright ban, as the UK is not vaccinating under-18s.

Katie Crookshank, of London, wrote to the High Commission: “We have a 12-year-old girl who is distraught as she now can’t be a bridesmaid in August. The reputation of Malta being a family-friendly island is being damaged. Why can’t they be PCR tested?”

Some 20 countries, including Portugal, Spain and France, have already agreed bilaterally with the UK to recognise the NHS app in advance of its integration into the EU’s new green pass. The pass is designed to allow people to travel freely within the EU if they are fully vaccinated or have negative PCR tests.

On Wednesday, Portugal U-turned on its policy which required anyone arriving from the UK aged over 12 to be double vaccinated – or face quarantine on arrival. The move would have scuppered family holidays  for any parents with teenage children although it did not apply to green listed Madeira.

Its policy reversal means under-18s will now be exempt if travelling with a fully vaccinated parent or guardian. Children aged 12 and over will instead have to show proof of a negative test. Under-12s will not have to show proof of a negative test and are completely exempt.

Government scientific advisers are also closely monitoring Covid rates in the Balearic islands of Ibiza, Mallorca and Menorca after they doubled from 51 cases per 100,000 of the population last week when they were green listed, to 98 per 100,000 on Monday, Downing Street said.

Unlike Malta, which is fully green listed, the Balearics are on a green watch list, which means they are already at “most risk” of returning to amber, which would require holidaymakers to quarantine on their return to the UK.

Meanwhile, a senior French government adviser rejected calls for Britons to be banned from holidaying in France this summer, saying it was “too late” to act against the delta variant.

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