As winter sets in and Covid cases begin to rise again, governments are starting to reintroduce restrictions on social activities. Many countries are imposing additional restrictions for indoor venues like restaurants and bars for instance. Customers must show proof of vaccination before they are allowed entry.

As part of these new containment protocols, most countries rely on a smartphone app to provide the necessary proof. In most cases, the app shows a unique QR code that confirms the user has received a complete course of vaccine injections – or that they have caught and recovered from the virus.

Covid passports are also essential for travellers. Without the ability to prove vaccine status,

However, the system is not always foolproof.

A four-hour outage causes chaos

People are now hugely reliant on their Covid passports. So when NHS England experienced a system outage, app users experienced some serious problems. Travellers could not check in for their flights at airports, and others were turned away from venues demanding proof at the entrance.

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Although the outage only lasted four hours, thousands of people were affected. But for travellers who missed their flights or ferries, it was too late.

The exact cause of the outage was never announced, but a spokesperson later told media outlets it was “a technical issue with a global service provider that affected many different organisations”. Most modern web apps are designed to be resilient, using cloud technologies to prevent outages. However, it seems as though the NHS England app was not designed properly.

How to avoid problems with the Covid app

Although it is impossible to stop the app crashing, there are ways to ensure you always have a copy of your Covid vaccine passport available. In England, you can dial 119 and request a printed copy of your vaccine certificate – just remember to call several weeks before you need it.

iPhone users should also be aware that they can save copies of their pass into Apple Wallet. These passes are stored on the phone and will always be available, even if the NHS system crashes again.

The other option is to take a screenshot of your passes and save them to your phone’s photo album. Just be aware that some agents may not accept these pictures because they aren’t “official”, even though the QR codes can be viewed and scanned.

Hopefully the problem with the NHS England Covid app has now been resolved – and that other health agencies from around the world have learned from their mistakes. But as always it pays to plan ahead. You should seriously consider obtaining a printed copy of your certificate or saving a digital version to Apple Wallet before you travel. That way it will always be available just in case something does go wrong with the app again.