SOURCE / ECONOMY
Vaccine passport is ready, with resumption of global travel on the horizon?
Published: Apr 08, 2021 06:18 PM
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A passenger walks in an airport terminal. Photo: VCG


With the large-scale vaccination rollouts on a global scale, the concept of vaccine passport is also gaining support in more governments, in a bid to gain confidence for global travel. 

Some can't wait to move ahead, and some are still waiting and watching, but given the reality of mutual recognition and the concern of possible discrimination, can a vaccine passport become a token of personnel exchanges and economic recovery?

"Vaccine passports should not be mandatory, but it is suggested that passport holders should be provided some sort of simplified travel procedures or preventive measures," Tao Lina, a Shanghai-based medical expert on vaccines, told the Global Times on Thursday.

Tao introduced that the vaccine passport is actually a proof that someone has been vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccine. It is now accepted that vaccination has a protective effect, not 100 percent, but greatly reduces the risk of infection and illness. 

"In this case, vaccinated people are no longer vulnerable and should be treated differently from those who are not vaccinated," Tao added.

On Monday, the British government announced that it would trial a COVID-19 passport scheme in England to ensure mass-audience events such as concerts and sporting matches to take place.

The UK National Health Service is said to be working on a system to allow people to demonstrate their COVID-19 vaccination status through an app or paper certificate. For people who have not yet been vaccinated, it could record any recent negative tests, or whether they have tested positive in the last six months and are likely to have natural immunity, according to BBC.

As of Wednesday, more than 31.71 million people in the UK have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and nearly 5.68 million have received both jabs, according to the daily COVID-19 figures released by the UK government.

The European Union also plans to introduce vaccination certificate, referred to as a Digital Green Certificate, before the arrival of summer, according to a statement of the European Commission in mid-March. According to the plan, in addition to vaccination records, information including nucleic acid test results and recovery from COVID-19 should also be included in the records in digital or paper format. 

A symbolic COVID-19 health passport is seen on a smartphone screen in Brazil on Monday. Illustration: VCG

A symbolic COVID-19 health passport is seen on a smartphone screen in Brazil on Monday. Illustration: VCG


More countries are also in the wave, and it is clear that countries that actively promote the vaccine passport scheme are mostly popular international travel destinations, for such passport is seen as a shortcut to revitalize their tourism industry.

"The global tourism industry has shown signs of recovery in 2021, and it is expected that the global tourism market will almost fully recover from the pandemic by 2022. Meanwhile, China's inbound and outbound tourism are expected to restart during the second half of this year," Ji Zhiying, a travel industry analyst at Beijing-based consulting and research firm Analysys, told the Global Times on Thursday.

From March 18 onwards, Iceland has opened its borders to foreigners who are vaccinated. 

Media reported that the number of tourists to Iceland in 2020 has dropped by 75 percent to less than 500,000, resulting in a 6.6 percent decline in Iceland's GDP last year.

Greece, which traveling accounts for about one-fifth of its GDP, has signed a "green pass" agreement with Israel and is working on similar bilateral agreements with 10 more countries including the UK, the US, Canada and China.

Global tourist destination Thailand has also taken some actions. Starting from April 1, Thailand allows tourists who have been vaccinated to enter six tourist destinations including Phuket, Koh Samui, and Chiang Mai, with the quarantine period shortened to seven days.

And it is expected that more countries will be added to the list of those who do not need to quarantine upon arrival.

Airlines' efforts

In addition to the government, some international airlines have also begun to make corresponding preparations for the vaccine passport.

Qatar Airways operated the world's first fully COVID-19 vaccinated flight on Tuesday, which carried only vaccinated crew and passengers onboard, with passengers also being served by fully vaccinated staff at check-in, Qatar Airways told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker said that "Today's special flight demonstrates the next stage in the recovery of international travel is not far away."

International Air Transport Association (IATA) on Tuesday welcomed Singapore's acceptance of pre-departure COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test results on the Travel Pass of IATA.

Singapore Airlines, Emirates and Qatar Airways have been working with the IATA to test the digital Travel Pass developed by the organization. 

From May 1, passengers traveling to Singapore will be able to use IATA Travel Pass to share their pre-departure COVID-19 PCR test results upon check-in with their airline, as well as on-arrival at the immigration checkpoints at Changi Airport.

The Travel Pass is a personal secure digital wallet solution that can be used by passengers to obtain and store their COVID-19 test results from accredited laboratories. 

The app developed by IATA will be trialed by Air New Zealand from April to "streamline the health verification process to help customers know what they need to take their next international trip safely," the Guardian reported.

So far, more than 20 airlines have announced trials of the IATA Travel Pass.

These efforts come against the background of a sluggish demand, with IATA data reflecting that total demand in January 2021, measured in revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs), was down 72.0 percent compared to January 2019. That was worse than the 69.7 percent year-on-year decline recorded in December 2020.

International passenger demand in January was down 85.6 percent from January 2019, a further drop compared to the 85.3 percent year-on-year decline recorded in December. The organization forecasts that industry will burn through $75 to $95 billion in cash this year.

Although many countries are trying to adopt a vaccine passport to record and formally determine the vaccination status of each traveler, and to allow travel between countries, market watchers said that the implementation of this process at the global level will face multiple challenges, such as countries need to reach a consensus on the approval and validity period of various vaccines, and it is not easy.

On Wednesday, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told a press conference that "we as the WHO are saying at this stage, we would not like to see the vaccination passport as a requirement for entry or exit, because we are not certain at this stage that the vaccine prevents transmission." 

Harris mentioned other reasons that the organization decided not to back the vaccine passport, including possible discrimination against people who are not able to get a vaccine.




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