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COVID-19 Update: Global Health Passports

12/3/2020
The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we live – from how we conduct business, gather (or don’t gather) with family and friends to how we get our groceries. The travel industry has not been spared and continues to adapt to life during the pandemic. The future of flying will soon require travelers to carry a passport that shows proof of COVID-19 vaccinations.
 

Many airlines and destinations require a negative COVID-19 test result for travel ahead of a vaccine, but there is no standard result format or verification system. The fragmented set of requirements and information for entry into and exit from a country, plus the range of different test types required by different governments, has resulted in a confusing system for airlines, immigration officials, and passengers to navigate. The various types of documentation and requirements can lead to health check errors and even fraud, threatening a country's efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
 

International Air Transport Association Launches Travel Pass

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has announced that they are in the process of finalizing a universal digital COVID-19 passport. The digital health pass would include information about a traveler’s COVID-19 testing and vaccinations that would be verified by labs, airlines, and government agencies. The passport will also enable travelers to find verified testing centers and labs at their point of departure that meet the standards and requirements of their destination to avoid quarantine rules and travel restrictions.

According to Alexandre de Juniac, IATA CEO, “Testing is the first key to enable international travel without quarantine measures. The second key is the global information infrastructure needed to securely manage, share and verify test data matched with traveler identities in compliance with border control requirements.

Travelers who receive the COVID-19 vaccine will likely have confirmation of their vaccination digitally linked to their official passports. The IATA says a 'vaccination passport' will bring peace of mind to potential tourists and could quickly reboot mass travel across the globe. 

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Airlines Change Boarding Requirements

According to The Hill, passenger volumes have been 65 percent below 2019 levels and any sort of relief, whether it is government assistance, testing protocols or a vaccine, would be welcomed by airlines. Airlines were looking forward to Thanksgiving holiday travel, which is typically a large revenue driver for the travel industry. However, maintaining a steady stream of passengers has been challenging after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning against traveling as coronavirus cases surge in the United States.

U.S. airlines, which have lobbied for months for another COVID-19 relief package, say they can help the federal government with vaccine distribution. When asked about how airlines are going to handle the rollout of vaccines, including how they would know if someone has been vaccinated, Airlines for America, which represents major commercial carriers, did not give a direct answer. However, they did share that airlines are “committed to restoring service in a manner that prioritizes the safety and wellbeing of [their] passengers and employees.” Many major carriers, including United and American, are also offering COVID-19 tests at airports, nearby drive-through locations, or mail-in tests to keep passengers safe.

According to the Daily Mail, Qantas, an Australian airline, is reportedly making plans to require all passengers get vaccinated before any international flights. CEO, Alan Joyce recently said that, “the carrier would implement the measure once the vaccine was made available to the public.” He has also predicted that implementing the health passport will become a standard practice around the world and believes other carriers should quickly follow suit.

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Similar Global Digital Health Passports

The CommonPass is operated by the CommonTrust Network, a nonprofit organization that is aimed at granting people digital access to health information, including vaccination records and lab results, using a secure and standardized health care data exchange system. It includes hundreds of health systems and hospitals, along with accredited labs and other providers worldwide, and allows travelers to document their COVID-19 status electronically and present it when boarding an airplane or crossing a border.

According to the Health Care Dive, Airport Council International, a group representing almost 2,000 airports around the world, along with JetBlue, Lufthansa, Swiss International Airlines, United Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic joined the CommonTrust Network. This technology ensures that passengers flying out from New York, Boston, London and Hong Kong can electronically present their COVID-19 health information and vaccination records.

Another health pass, developed by the International Chamber of Commerce, is known as the AOKpass and is currently being used for travel between Abu Dhabi and Pakistan. Other destinations, such as Hawaii and France, are allowing travelers to skip a two-week quarantine period if they show a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of departure. Countries with stricter regulations, like Abu Dhabi and Croatia, are requiring a negative test result within 48 hours of departure. A few other countries, like Brazil and Turkey, do not have any barriers to entry at all.

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