The impact of Covid-19 on the aviation industry will continue to be prolonged for several months, but as the number of people vaccinated worldwide increases gradually, it becomes possible to think of a resumption plan for business and tourism. With this, something that has been discussed about since the end of 2020 and increasingly stronger day after day, and also as a way to anticipate this resumption is the creation of a vaccine passport or an international health certificate that would allow vaccinated people to travel with more flexibility and less restrictions.
Countries around the world are betting on vaccines to get out of this pandemic, but governments now face another question: is it time to resume a certain part of the economy such as travel, theaters, concerts and even work for everyone? Or only for those who have already been vaccinated?
Vaccines have been shown to be effective in combating the pandemic, including in reducing severe cases and hospitalizations. This means that if businesses, workplaces and borders are to reopen, one way to reduce the risk of a new outbreak would be to require some kind of proof of vaccination, which could be a health pass or a vaccine passport.
The creation and requirements for the Covid-19 vaccination passport seem to be inevitable, but its application is far from having a point in common between the different agencies / authorities worldwide, countries and airlines, that is, the subject is controversial and many problems and concerns with this implementation are still being discussed, and there is no consensus what would be the best solution at the moment.
This discussion is taking place worldwide, and like all continents, Asia is also engaged and making the best efforts in this regard and sees it as a very feasible solution so that the resumption of aviation can take place as soon as possible.
What is a vaccine passport or a health certificate?
While the traditional Passport is a mandatory document for passengers traveling to other countries, the vaccine passport, or vaccination certificate, or health certificate, or any other name for a such document, is very close to be the next mandatory document and required in order to prove that a person has been vaccinated against Covid-19. It will soon be required by several countries to allow foreigners to enter and may even be required for domestic flights.
Several countries are already in advanced implementation stages, some are already testing solutions launched and the great challenge that is present is to ensure the integration of this information and its verification, ensuring that the data is accurate and reliable. The expectation created with this document is the accelerated resumption of borders and the return mainly for travel and tourism, at the same time reducing or even eliminating the current restrictions.
However, due to the worldwide availability of the vaccine, and numerous concerns such as ethics, discrimination, privacy, counterfeiting, among others, still make this issue very controversial, being a very big concern on the part of the World Health Organization, which believes that poor countries tend to be even more isolated from the world as access to vaccines are restrictive. Furthermore, countless people who cannot get the vaccine due to issues such as pregnancy, health issues and even young children can be penalized in this process leading to a restriction on their ability to travel.
The fact is that a vaccine passport or health certificate can bring the expected benefits, but there are still many questions that needs to be answered.
How some countries in Asia are dealing with this issue
Ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, are in discussion regarding the implementation of a regional vaccine digital passport, aiming at resuming tourism and improving the region’s economy. As many countries and international bodies are still discussing this topic, a number of issues still need to be clarified before the project can be carried out, including issues of data privacy and cyber-attacks, which is an issue of major concern within ASEAN and needs to have a consensus of member countries as well as standardized procedures and systems.
On the other hand, due to the constraints in these concerns, some countries such as Singapore and Malaysia are discussing about bilateral agreements in order to streamline the process, but this solution while resolving some impasses can also create other problems. Singapore, for example, already expects to implement a digital model proposed by IATA starting on May 2021, an application that has already been tested and validated by Singapore Airlines.
China is the first country to have introduced an international travel health certificate for its citizens as early March 2021, in which a person’s status with regards to Covid-19 tests and vaccines are available on this certificate. This news was well received in general, but as there are still no clear procedures as to how this will work operationally, as Chinese nationals even when vaccinated and with the available certificate still go through restrictions like any other travelers without the vaccination. In other words, the need for quarantine on international trips to China continues to exist even with the certificate issued.
Japan, South Korea and Thailand
Japan, South Korea and Thailand, are other examples of Asian countries that should soon implement the vaccine passport or health certificates following the same principles of China and aiming at the resumption of flights.
India is an example that has not yet defined the implementation of a passport of health certificates but has in mind such implementation like its neighboring countries.
What do the International Aviation Organizations Say About it?
The two main Aviation International Organizations, ICAO and IATA, are aligned with the need for a such document that will facilitate international travel for those who are vaccinated. ICAO concurs with the IATA initiative that launched the TRAVEL PASS, a fully digital platform, basically an application that works with a Covid-19 passport or health certificate in which it will bring the relevant information of the passenger and their situation regarding the tests and mainly vaccination against Covid-19. The application aims to assist the passenger with the restrictions and regulations of the location to which they intend to travel and to assist Airlines, airports, and agents to confirm that the passenger meets the imposed requirements.
Airlines that are already testing the application are:
Figure 1 – Airlines Trialing IATA Travel Pass
Figure 2 – IATA Travel Pass overview
However, IATA is not alone on this front and the competitors exist, such as CommonPass, a project funded by the International Economic Forum and the Rockefeller Foundation, with the same ultimate goal as IATA. This application is also already in the testing phase and being tested in the United States, Europe and Hong Kong.
Another front also comes from International Chamber of Commerce and International SOS with the AOKpass solution, being tested first in Singapore. And there are even other solutions in progress like IBM’s with the Digital Health Pass.
In time to come, all international passengers will be using some of these applications to ensure that their health credentials are valid and can be accepted in a destination country.
The idea of a passport or health certificate against Covid-19 was born exclusively to allow the resumption of travel at an appropriate level and make the world economy breathe easier. With the advancement on this front, and aiming at the resumption of other markets, the use of a passport or health certificate tends to be required in other demands as well, such as concerts, restaurants and even to work.
The subject will still be very deeply discussed, requirements will be imposed, but the only certainty that seems to be that the vaccine passport or health certificate very soon will be another document that is mandatory for travel.