The idea of a health passport has been floated for a few months now. Airports, airlines and governments have all expressed interest in an online system that could track immunisation to Covid-19.
This would be in the form of an app or digital certificate – including vaccination and test records – giving everyone immune to Covid-19 digital proof of their health, and the ability to travel to countries that participate in the scheme.
European countries have urged the EU to come up with a co-ordinated certification that will be accepted across all member states.
The UN World Tourism Organisation secretary-general, Zurab Pololikashvili, said: “The roll-out of vaccines is a step in the right direction, but the restart of tourism cannot wait. Vaccines must be part of a wider, co-ordinated approach that includes certificates and passes for safe cross-border travel.”
Australian airline Qantas has announced it will require passengers to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination before they board. Australian borders are closed to visitors and residents must quarantine for 14 days from arrival. A vaccine passport would offer an alternative to that system.
In October 2020, a trial of a digital ‘health passport’ was held at Heathrow Airport. CommonPass was the first step towards creating a common international standard for Covid-free certificates. Participants were required to take a Covid test no sooner than 72 hours before their flight. If negative, the app generates a ‘QR’ code to be scanned by border officials and airline staff, without disclosing any other sensitive data.
The International Air Transport Association is also working on a system (called Travel Pass) which in its simplest form will be a centralised database of national entry requirements. It will also carry vaccine and testing information.
Mvine and iProov (identity management companies) have already developed such an app in the UK, which is in the final stages of testing. This app will give access to the vaccination and testing data of individuals, without disclosing their identity. Additionally, it will piggy-back on existing NHS infrastructure, so roll-out may become easier and cheaper.
The pandemic has brought the travel industry to its knees. While we are still early in the process of mass vaccination, making it compulsory to have a vaccine to board a plane or enter the country will not give the travel industry the boost it so desperately needs. Not in the short term anyway.
But if vaccine passports also carry information about a recent negative test or anti-body presence, then they can become part of an approach that can help revitalise the travel industry and begin and kick start economic recovery.
There is hope around the corner, and it can’t come soon enough.