"WELL I don't know why there's so many of you here," was how the receptionist greeted our little gathering outside the clinic. It was an inauspicious start to my first fit-to-fly testing experience. Or rather an inauspicious continuation, after I'd clocked that the "clinic" was just a disused shop front with some plastic chairs and curtains set up inside.

Once a few of us had been permitted entry, a second receptionist barked "have you downloaded the app?" at some men who didn't seem to speak English and had not, despite the instruction in the confirmation email, downloaded the app before showing up to have their nasal passages lightly swept in what was, to be honest, a feeble imitation of a lateral flow test.

The men were issued with clipboards and lengthy forms to fill in. I wondered how I would manage to grapple with all the Covid travel rules and regulations of a country where I didn't understand the written language. I didn't need to wonder for long – I concluded I wouldn't even attempt it unless there was some kind of dire emergency.

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I had downloaded four separate apps to take a week-long break to Canada: one to prove my vaccine status; one for the airline, so I could be advised of any changes to my flights en route; one linked to the testing clinic and a fourth that the Canadian government requires every visitor to use, to log their vaccine certificate and quarantine plans. 

I spent hours online researching the constantly changing entry requirements, checking and triple-checking the details of my vaccine doses, reading travel insurance small print and faffing about trying to obtain screenshots of absolutely everything, just in case I couldn't get online at a vital moment. I seem to be one of the few people who can’t take screenshots of the NHS Scotland Covid status app, despite the original intention being for everyone to be similarly thwarted.

Thanks to all these electronic efforts, once at the airport I only had to show my proof of a negative test for a member of the airline staff to scrawl "docs checked" in biro on my boarding pass. No-one in Canada even asked about my docs. Talk about an anti-climax.

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Of course, while jumping through the various hoops I recognised my extreme privilege in being able to fly anywhere at all, especially as news alert popped up that mentioned rising Covid death rates in countries with low levels of vaccination. Had I not been staying with a friend, I wouldn't have been travelling abroad – the anxiety about potentially getting stuck abroad would have negated any pleasure.

But I also thought of those who would fall at the very first hurdle when trying to book a trip overseas - the people who don't have home internet access, let alone a smartphone onto which they can download innumerable apps, or access to a printer that could spit out a downloaded certificate or a receipt from a website like Canada’s ArriveCan.

When the concept of vaccine passports was first floated by UK politicians, I was dismissive. Such a scheme was neither desirable nor practically possible, I was sure. Paper certificates could easily be faked and anything digital-only would unfairly exclude large numbers of people, in particular older people and those with the least money. And this was the UK, which so conclusively rejected mandatory ID cards as recently as 2011. 

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But I was wrong, or at least mostly wrong. The option to provide a negative LFT result meant we never really had vaccine passports per se (except for cross-border travel like the kind I just undertook) but the heavy reliance on smartphone apps was accepted with little pushback.

It's great that businesses like bars and restaurants have been able to harness technology to make their premises safer during the pandemic, whether by ditching physical menus, allowing online ordering or letting customers “check in” efficiently for track-and-trace purposes, but it’s vitally important that those without these options aren’t left behind – or made to feel like such a nuisance that their horizons are narrowed. 

How many businesses will opt to stick with a cashless model, now that the vast majority of potential customers have been forced to use card payments? How feasible is it that someone without a smartphone, credit or debit card will be able to book travel face-to-face, access the necessary public computing and printing facilities to meet entry requirements, and complete a trip without encountering problems? Internet cafes with physical computers are no longer viable enterprises, and public payphones are almost extinct.

Campaigns to save the "last branch in town" for in-person banking now feel like a last howl of protest before digital triumphed. After all, large numbers of elderly and vulnerable people were forced to manage without visiting bank branches when lockdown stopped them from going almost anywhere. But the digital leap forward that occurred over the past two years has coincided with spiking costs of living, which will force many families to reassess every outgoing. 

At a time when limitless data may feel essential, can the cost be justified? What about an upgrade for extra memory to accommodate an endless supply of apps? International roaming? A home printer with an insatiable demand for expensive ink? It all adds up, at a time when we've become more reliant on technology than ever. How many can truly afford it?