Covid passport scanner launched to allow flight attendants to verify passes at major sporting events

Stewards at sporting events, including Premier League football matches, can now be equipped with scanners to verify fans’ Covid passports are genuine, after NHSX completes trials of a new ‘verification app’.

The introduction of the new technology supports the return to full capacity in stadiums.

Government guidelines encourage organizers of major events, including top football matches, to use Covid passports to protect people as attendance increases.

Passports provide evidence of a double dose of vaccine, a negative test or natural immunity to a previous infection via the NHS app, and have been a key feature at Covid testing events this summer.

Covid passports have been tested as part of phase three of the government’s event research program but some people felt the checks on the passes were volatile and ineffective

As part of the third phase of the government’s events research programme, passports were in use at Wembley when more than 60,000 fans attended the Euro 2020 semi-finals and final, and at Wimbledon, where a full house returned to Center Court in the second week of the championships.

However, at both locations, some onlookers complained that stewards gave only a cursory glance at the smartphone images, leading one football fan to say he could have reached Wembley with a free pizza code.

Now the NHS’s technology division, NHSX, has completed testing its verification app at events and in the travel industry.

The scanner is seen as an important tool in return for crowds, as it is now available to organizations “like the Premier League and others,” a Whitehall source said.

Covid checks were in place at Wimbledon but no QR codes had to be scanned

Covid checks were in place at Wimbledon but no QR codes had to be scanned

The top flight is currently in talks with clubs about how it can implement Covid passports over the coming season, which starts when Brentford will play against Arsenal on August 13, as the government expects the flagship league to follow guidelines.

“Sometimes people say that the visual check isn’t enough and there must be something else,” adds the source. ‘This is an additional aid. Instead of doing a visual check, they may want to use the scanner. It’s very fast

The NHS app has been modified to show a person's Covid status

The NHS app has been modified to show a person’s Covid status

“We don’t tell organizations to do it, we leave it very much in their hands. We want to ensure that these major events and sporting events remain open. Hopefully the NHS app is a way of doing that and reassuring the public.”

Scientists are still cracking the data on contamination levels resulting from the large-scale testing events in phase three of the program.

While there has been some concern about the quality of checks on people’s Covid passports and the standard of some stewarding, feedback from spectators is believed to be generally positive.

In most cases, supporters cleared the controls quickly, with the exception of the Euro 2020 final, when the system collapsed as stewards were deployed to defend the stadium against thousands of ticketless yobs.

The new scanner works by detecting the QR code generated by the NHS app. It can determine if it’s current and not a screen grab because the ‘live’ version flickers a bit.

Fans look forward to a full house at football matches and other major sporting events

Fans look forward to a full house at football matches and other major sporting events

Wimbledon's Center Court and Court One could operate at full capacity in the second week of the championships as part of phase three of the government's events research program

Wimbledon’s Center Court and Court One could operate at full capacity in the second week of the championships as part of phase three of the government’s events research program

In addition, the verifier confirms that a passport is up-to-date using the data embedded in the QR code, so it is not linked to a central database and there is no transfer of private data or ability to track the location of a person to capture.

“The last thing clubs want is to deal with people’s health data,” said a well-placed football source.

Health passports are already being used within Premier League football to restrict access to the red zone around the pitch in the stadium. Managed by the company Prenetics, these passes include Covid status, but can also indicate whether an individual has completed the necessary health clearances and mandatory training to be admitted to the arena.

During pilot events, fans were tested for Covid before and after attending matches

During pilot events, fans were tested for Covid before and after attending matches

Government guidelines for major sports also include the use of masks under fans and timed access to venues, to avoid bottlenecks.

While the Premier League is developing a Covid plan for all top flights, the situation is more complex in the EFL, where capacities range from 5,000 at Accrington Stanley to 49,000 at Sunderland.

Ministers have not defined “large” crowds. Previously, in the out of lock down roadmap, a ‘large’ hall was one with a capacity of more than 16,000. More recently, Cabinet Secretary Michael Gove suggested that a threshold could be set at 20,000.

In the lower leagues, clubs appear to be planning the return of fans with their local safety advisory groups, including transport, public health and emergency personnel.

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