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Will the COVID-19 vaccine passport be adopted?

COVID-19 Vaccine Passport…The Travel Gateway

With the launch of vaccination campaigns against the coronavirus, which has exhausted the world and paralyzed global travel, some believe that the vaccine is the only way to return to normal life and resume travel. A year after the pandemic outbreak and staying in home quarantine for months, many people hope to return to their normal lives, which will be under the condition to get vaccinated, which will be the travel gateway.

Today, the COVID-19 vaccine became the only hope for returning to normal life, as it does not seem that the world will get rid of this cross-border virus except with the vaccine, which put forward the idea of ​​a “COVID-19 vaccine passport”, allowing whoever gets the vaccine to travel again freely. Some governments around the world, airlines, as well as vaccine manufacturers are working on that as research is being made about the possibility of using “the COVID-19 vaccine passports” as a way for economic and tourism recovery by identifying those who are protected from the coronavirus.

It isn’t just governments that are suggesting vaccine passports. In fact, some Arab countries will participate in a trial of IATA Travel Pass to help pave the way for the re-establishment of global connectivity while managing the risks of COVID-19. It will help passengers manage their travel plans and provide airlines and governments documentation that they have been vaccinated or tested for COVID-19. The European Commission will propose an EU law on COVID-19 vaccine certificates. The common COVID-19 certificate system, which is expected to be operational as early as June, aims at providing “proof that a person has been vaccinated, results of tests for those who couldn’t get a vaccine yet and info on COVID-19 recovery.”

A unified GCC health passport

The GCC countries would soon discuss the issue of a unified Gulf health passport, in addition to travel and movement between GCC countries. Soon, those wishing to travel will be required to present a certificate proving that they have obtained the coronavirus vaccine, as it is a prerequisite for travel from one country to another. Many international airlines tend to impose that travelers obtain a certificate of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, a prerequisite for travel in the coming period, and it is expected that many countries will require travelers to provide vaccine certificates to enter their borders, so that the vaccine certificate becomes a new travel rule in the world.

Qatar Airways Group CEO believes that everyone will have to present a certificate of vaccination in order for them to board the plane, indicating that this will be the new standard, and every person must present a certificate of vaccination onboard the plane and not just to board the plane. Many countries require that you be vaccinated before you travel to them. The major efforts made by the national carrier in Qatar during the coronavirus period made it the first global airline to obtain a 5-star rating for “auditing safety measures for coronavirus at the airline level” from Skytrax.

This announcement follows a careful review conducted by the Skytrax team last December, in which it evaluated the effectiveness and strictness of the safety and sterilization standards and procedures related to the coronavirus applied by the Qatari carrier, from the check-in point at the airport to the passengers’ experience onboard.

Etihad Aviation Group and Emirates Airlines announced their cooperation with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to use a mobile application that helps download and share information about coronavirus tests and vaccines. The app is a health “digital passport” that allows travelers to share their data with travel companies and relevant authorities in order to facilitate their travel and movement between countries and with airlines. It also allows them to verify that their pre-travel test for the coronavirus or vaccination meets the requirements of their destinations.

Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Health, Dr. Tawfiq al-Rabiah, announced the launch of an online “Health Passport” for those who completed the two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The “Health Passport” is developed by the Kingdom’s Ministry of Health, in cooperation with the Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence (SDAIA).

“Tawakkalna,” developed by SDAIA, is the official application approved by the Ministry of Health of Saudi Arabia to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The minister of health said the “Health Passport” will help the authorities identify those who received the vaccine. In addition, the Kingdom of Bahrain launched a “digital passport” for those who received the protective vaccine against COVID-19, thus becoming one of the first countries to take this step.

A Bahraini government mobile application allows people to digitally register the status of their immunity to COVID-19 after receiving the vaccine. The BeAware Bahrain app offers a coronavirus vaccination certificate that enables users to receive the certificate stating that they are vaccinated against the virus. To receive the certificate, people must receive two doses of the vaccine 21 days apart and then wait two weeks after the second dose for antibodies to develop, according to the app. Vaccines against COVID-19 typically require two doses to be fully effective. 

Authorities can verify the validity of the certificate by scanning a QR code linking to the national vaccine register.

Bahrain’s ‘BeAware’ app displays a green shield alongside an official certificate detailing the person’s name, date of birth, nationality and which vaccine was received. Users must have received two doses of a vaccine, separated by 21 days, and then wait for two weeks for antibodies to develop. Authorities can verify its validity by scanning a QR code linking to the national vaccine register.

Also, in the State of Kuwait, Minister of Health, Sheikh Dr. Basil Al-Sabbah said that a special certificate of vaccination will be given to those who got vaccinated. It will contain information confirming receipt of the vaccine for those who receive the second dose, confirming that it will be used as a passport at the airports that request it.

IATA Travel Pass

In this context, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is preparing to launch a new mobile application “the IATA Travel Pass” allowing travelers store and manage certifications for COVID-19 tests or vaccines. The Association hopes that the free mobile application will be the key to reopening borders and bringing the world back to normal travel again, without the need for a quarantine. The information provided through the IATA Travel Pass can be used by governments requiring testing or vaccination proofs as a condition of international travel during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. A critical aspect is the fact that the information supplied is verified. It is a secure means to manage health requirements, much more efficient than paper processes.

The IATA Travel Pass will help people travel at ease while meeting any government requirements for COVID-19 tests or vaccines. It will encompass:

  • Global registry of health requirements – to find accurate information on travel, testing and vaccine requirements for journeys 
  • Global registry of testing/vaccination centers – to identify testing centers and labs at departure location which meet the standards for testing and vaccination requirements of the destination
  • Lab app – to locate authorized labs and test centers to securely share test and vaccination certificates
  • Digital passport module – to enable passengers to create a ‘digital passport’, receive test and vaccination certificates and verify that they are sufficient for their itinerary, and share testing or vaccination certificates with airlines and authorities to facilitate travel. This app can also be used by travelers to manage travel documentation digitally and seamlessly throughout their journey, improving the travel experience.

IATA is calling for systematic COVID-19 testing of all international travelers and the information flow infrastructure needed to enable this must support governments with the means to verify the authenticity of tests and the identity of those presenting the test certificates, airlines with the ability to provide accurate information to their passengers on test requirements and verify that a passenger meets the requirements for travel, laboratories with the means to issue digital certificates to passengers that will be recognized by governments, and travelers with accurate information on test requirements, where they can get tested or vaccinated, and the means to securely convey test information to airlines and border authorities.

It is not a new idea

The idea of requiring vaccination for entry into some countries or some places is not limited to COVID-19 vaccines. Many countries require a yellow fever vaccine to enter their territories either for all expatriates, as is the case in French Guiana, or for those from Africa and South America where this disease is prevalent. Vaccination centers issue certificates officially called “an international certificate for vaccination and preventive medicine,” which is a yellow notebook recognized by the World Health Organization.

Supporters of the vaccine passport, who are many in the tourism and entertainment sectors, see it as a way to “return to life before” COVID -19, as it allows safe entry to theaters, restaurants and football fields.

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