Visa Crunch

COVID vaccines mean that digital health passports will be the newest addition to your travel document checklist.

As the first vaccines begin to roll out in the UK, which is the first country to authorize a vaccine to be administered to the mass public, the travel outlook for 2021 seems to have taken a turn for the good. Organizations have already begun innovating health transports which will greatly aid travel by providing proof of COVID testing for passengers on international flights, and thereby allowing immigration authorities at the port of arrival to quickly scan passenger’s credentials and allow them into the country, without let or hindrance. As things stand right now, most countries have implemented some form of quarantine measures, which are proving to be quite costly and are also discouraging travel.

The CommonPass digital health passport seems to be one of the pioneers in this expedition. A product of the collaboration between global organizations such as the World Economic Forum and the Commons Project Foundation, the CommonPass initiative shows so much promise because it also has partners in the private or public sector in 40 countries. The CommonPass has already launched on a trial basis on certain flights originating and travelling to a selected group of countries. The United States Customs and Border Protection and Centres for Disease Control and Prevention are monitoring the rollout of this programme.

The basic premise of the passport is that holder’s test for COVID at a certified lab and upload their results. Other specific checks may be required by different countries, depending upon the holder’s end destination. A QR code is generated, which can be scanned by officials at the airport and hosts and hostesses within the airline to affirm your COVID negative test results. The passport aims to comply with global data storage and privacy protection regulations.

The CommonPass website explains that the pass’ primary purpose is to “enable safer airline and cross border travel by giving both travellers and governments confidence in each traveller’s verified COVID-19 status.”

Dr Bradley Perkins, chief medical officer of the Commons Project, said “Without the ability to trust COVID-19 tests – and eventually vaccine records – across international borders, many countries will feel compelled to retain full travel bans and mandatory quarantines for as long as the pandemic persists. With trusted individual health data, countries can implement more nuanced health screening requirements for entry.”

Other companies and organizations have caught on as well, such as the IATA, which is also looking to launch its own version of the health passport. While the concept of a health passport affirms testing, the possibility of an immunity passport being innovated remains a possibility. An immunity passport will testify that the owner has received a jab of the COVID-19 vaccine. However, the adoption of immunity passports soon remains doubtful due to the limited number of vaccine shots expected to be administered in 2021 itself.

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