In 2020, COVID-19 created a havoc for the travel industry globally and the aviation sector was the worst hit with almost all the countries stopping international flights to contain the spread of virus. While restrictions are gradually lifted to ease the travel between various countries, the international air traffic is still at its lowest since 9/11. Various countries, independent agencies and airlines are looking for ways to make air travel easier, more accessible.
One of the recent trends emerging is called the COVID-19 passport, a travel pass of sorts that digitally holds all the vaccinations and medical records for hassle free travel experience. Recently, Emirates partnered with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to become one of the first airlines in the world to trial IATA Travel Pass.
So what is this travel pass/ COVID-19 passport and do you get one? We answer your frequently asked questions-
What is COVID-19 Passport or travel Pass?
It’s a mobile app to help passengers easily and securely manage their travel in line with any government requirements for COVID-19 testing or vaccine information. A Travel Pass enables passengers to create a ‘digital passport’ to verify their pre-travel test or vaccination meets the requirements of the destination. They will also be able to share the test and vaccination certificates with authorities and airlines to facilitate travel.
The app also enables travellers to manage all travel documentation digitally and seamlessly throughout the travel experience. It is being said that in 2021, the COVID-19 Vaccine Passport will become one of the most important travel documents.
Where has the idea stemmed from?
While there’s no concrete answer to who came up with the idea of Travel Pass for future aviation needs, airlines like Emirates can be credited with starting such a service at very initial phase. However, the mass appeal to implement the COVID-19 passport can be credited to United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary General, UNWTO recently called for the global adoption of vaccination passports for safe resumption of international travel.
It’s not a first time the idea to carry an extra travel document has emerged. A Yellow Card was essential proof of vaccination against yellow fever back in the days. This protocol was rolled 88 years ago after the first International Certificate of Inoculation and Vaccination was established by the International Sanitary Convention for Aerial Navigation in 1933 in The Hague, Netherlands, and then later adopted by the World Health Organisation. A travel pass is essentially a digital form of Yellow Card.
Which countries have rolled-out Vaccine Passport?
China: China recently became the first country in Asia Pacific to issue COVID-19 certificate for its citizens, making them eligible for travel.
Iceland: The Nordic state has become the first country to issue vaccination certificates. All the citizens who have received two doses of vaccine are now eligible for a digital certificate.
Denmark: Country’s Ministry of Health and the Elderly has said that they are working on a ‘vaccine passport’ for Danish travellers who are travelling to the countries where vaccination becomes mandatory for entry.
Israel: Israel’s health ministry has unveiled a Green Passport that enables people who are already-vaccinated to travel and be part of large gatherings. The passport is both digital and physical.
Hungary: The Eastern European country is working towards ‘immunity passports’, proving that traveller has never contracted virus, or has antibodies in their body.
Greece: The Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has appealed to the European Commission to introduce a vaccination certificate in order to facilitate travel between the bloc.
Global agencies offering Travel Pass
IATA: The International Air Transport Association is working with the World Health Organisation to develop secure vaccine pass that will be tamper-proof. Called the IATA Travel Pass, Emirates has already partnered with IATA to roll out mobile application to create a ‘digital passport’.
CommonPass: CommonPass is being launched by The Commons Project, The World Economic Forum and a coalition of public and private partners. Almost 2000 airports under the Airport Council International has signed on to use CommonPass.
AOKPass: The International Chamber of Commerce is testing the AOKpass which provides a digitally authenticated, secure and portable copy of your medical records. Singapore has already tested the AOKPass becoming the first country to do so.
Challenges in implementing COVID-19 Passport
While the idea of implementing travel pass globally suffice from the need of felicitating easy travel in the future, not everyone is on board to accept the new norm. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) has branded mandatory Vaccine Passport ‘discriminatory’. WTTC says testing travellers before travel to prove they are Covid-free is a better solution.
“The most vulnerable groups should be prioritised, a blanket vaccination requirement would simply discriminate against non-vulnerable groups, such as Generation X, Z and Millennials, who should be able to travel with proof of a negative COVID test,” Gloria Guevara, WTTC President and CEO, said.