In this, the third part, of our series focusing on the Future of Travel we look at the controversial subject of vaccine passports.
Our first two parts looked at why your future travel will be very different and how your future flying experience will be different.
For many people the idea of a vaccine passport to allow travel is something to be feared and fought against.
Main picture IATA Travel Pass being used to prove status at immigration credit IATA
The argument is that they risk creating a population of have and have nots, discriminating against people who do not have access to vaccines, choose not to receive them or may have medical conditions that make them more risky.
There are also fears that their introduction would have an impact on domestic civil liberties.
In reality we have had vaccine passports for international travel for many years, simply on a smaller scale.
However under International Health Regulations, a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required in most countries for travellers aged 9 months or over arriving from countries with risk of yellow fever transmission and for travellers having transited more than 12 hours through an airport of a country with risk of yellow fever transmission.
How do you prove you have received a vaccination? The recognised proof is the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP). In other words, a vaccine passport.
The big difference now of course is choice.
Although there are a number of countries with a Yellow Fever, and other diseases, risk, they do not tend to be among the most common places for travel. Many travellers would choose not to visit places that required Yellow Fever vaccines, many would not chose to visit countries where Malaria was prevalent.
Now it seems likely that to travel to the majority of countries, including those with large numbers of international tourists, will require a proof of vaccination.
Recent International Air Transport Association (IATA) polling shows strong support for a digital solution.
- 89% supported globally standardised COVID-19 test or vaccination certifications
- 84% want an app to manage their travel health credentials
Their figures however may be weighted by the fact that they generally survey regular travellers rather than occasional tourists.
Those who are against the use of vaccine passports may find that their international travel options are limited, at least for the next few years.
“A gap is opening up between countries responding to scientific evidence, and those exhibiting a lack of preparation or excessive caution in reopening borders. Countries that seize the opportunity offered by the increasing numbers of vaccinated travelers can protect their populations and reap an economic reward.”Willie Walsh, Director General IATA
Governments around the world are likely to insist on proof of vaccination, and potentially regular boosters, prior to entry. In many countries the local population are very supportive of these measures to prevent future outbreaks brought in by travellers.
Fit To Travel
Another major part of a future “vaccine passport” will be proof that you are fit to travel.
Covid testing will be required by many countries prior to travel and, in many cases, once you arrive as well.
However some countries may consider that proof of vaccination is enough protection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC) in the United States has said that “with a 90% effective vaccine, pre-travel testing, post-travel testing, and 7-day self-quarantine provide minimal additional benefit.”
“A safe opening of borders to international travel is the goal. And scientific evidence and data such as that presented by RKI, ECDC and USC CDC should be the basis for the decision-making needed to achieve that. There is increasing scientific evidence that vaccination is not only protecting people but also dramatically reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission. This is bringing us closer to a world where vaccination and testing enables the freedom to travel without quarantine. Germany and at least 20 other countries have already taken an important step forward in re-opening their borders to vaccinated travelers. These are the best practice examples for others to quickly follow.”Willie Walsh, Director General IATA
Many countries will require testing and this may be problematic to many. The recognised test for most countries is the PCR test. This test must be analysed in a laboratory and results tend to take 2 to 3 days. Affordable access to these tests varies throughout the world.
In addition, there have been ongoing reports of results not arriving in a timely manner, preventing people from travelling. Countries generally require a negative PCR test within 72 hours of departure. This does not give any margin for delays to receiving results.
Lateral flow tests are common in many countries but results are generally less reliable than PCR tests and so have not been accepted as proof. In the UK if you get a positive result from a Lateral flow test you are required to isolate until you get a negative result from a PCR test.
For many there is also the issue of being required to take additional tests when they return home.
In the UK travellers need to take into account the status of all countries that they vist, either red, amber or green.
Even travellers returning from green level countries must complete a PCR test within 2 days of their return. This has caused consternation among many travellers and tourist organisations.
“The UK Government must scrap the nonsensical requirement of PCR tests for those returning from low-risk (green) countries. There is no point in setting up a traffic light system if ‘green’ still requires additional measures that significantly add to the cost of a family trip.“Michael O’Leary, CEO Ryanair
Other tests are being developed.
Singapore authorities have approved, one provisionally, two Covid-19 breathalyser tests that aim to provide a result in less than a minute.
The first breath test developed by Breathonix, a spin-off from the National University of Singapore (NUS), achieved more than 90% accuracy in a pilot clinical trial last year A pilot practical trial took place at the Tuas Checkpoint in Singapore where a few thousand tests were taken and each was completed in between 40 and 60 seconds.
The second test has just received provisional approval after trials showed results were almost as accurate as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.
A saliva test is currently being trialled by British Airways.
Any future, faster and, importantly, cheaper test will need to be scientifically proven as reliable and approved by governments before they are accepted.
Digital Vaccine Passports
There have already been cases of forged vaccine paper certificates, and their digital copies in Europe.
The development of widely accepted and approved digital systems are favoured to prevent fraud and ensure accurate data is being provided.
A number of digital solutions are either being trialed or are in development. These include the IATA Travel Pass, CommonPass, from the World Economic Forum and The Commons Project; the Covid-19 Credentials Initiative; AOKPass, being developed by the International Chamber of Commerce, International SOS and SGS Group; and the Microsoft-backed Vaccination Credential Initiative.
Then there are a number of individual nations, and groups of nations, and airlines developing their own solutions. These include the European Union (EU), the UK, Dubai, Sweden, Denmark and Israel. Ryanair and AirAsia are both developing their own digital wallets.
In the UK the NHS app already shows vaccination records and COVID-19 status, if tests have been recorded.
Security of the apps will also be under scrutiny once they are in widespread use and criminals start focusing on them.
IATA Travel Pass
The IATA Travel Pass was developed to be able to store travel documents as well as proof of vaccination and test results for use on the international market.
The idea of the Travel Pass, and a number of other similar systems, is to provide a secure digital app, that complies with data protection laws and is secure from hacking and fraud.
The IATA Travel Pass is being trialled by a number of airlines. However until governments around the world start to approve use of these apps there will remain doubts on how travellers will prove their status around a number of countries.
In the next part of this series we will look at why cleanliness will be a major selling point for your future travel booking experience.
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