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Digital health passports: A roadmap to restarting safe travel?

The youth, student and educational travel industry continues to be deeply impacted by the pandemic and the subsequent travel restrictions. The halt in tourism due to border closures and travel bans is having a direct effect not only on the economy, but also on the wellbeing of young people. The progress on vaccines has lifted hopes, but restarting tourism safely remains an uphill struggle.

There has been much press surrounding the digital Travel Pass in development by IATA: an app that stores travellers’ health data in regard to COVID-19 test results and vaccination certificates. A common digital health passport that authenticates COVID-19 test results and certifies vaccinations could offer benefits such as faster immigration checkpoint clearance, reduced crowds at airports and quarantine-free travel. However, there are also many questions surrounding data protection and the longevity of such an app.

In light of this, the WYSE Travel Confederation Travel Safety Sector Panel has shared their perspectives on the how and if a digital health passport could be the solution to safely re-opening borders and getting the world moving again. The Panel also invites members of the youth travel industry to join the discussion in the comments at the foot of this page.

The youth, student and educational travel industry continues to be deeply impacted by the pandemic and the subsequent travel restrictions. The halt in tourism due to border closures and travel bans is having a direct effect not only on the economy, but also on the wellbeing of young people. The progress on vaccines has lifted hopes, but restarting tourism safely remains an uphill struggle.

There has been much press surrounding the digital Travel Pass in development by IATA: an app that stores travellers’ health data in regard to COVID-19 test results and vaccination certificates. A common digital health passport that authenticates COVID-19 test results and certifies vaccinations could offer benefits such as faster immigration checkpoint clearance, reduced crowds at airports and quarantine-free travel. However, there are also many questions surrounding data protection and the longevity of such an app.

In light of this, the WYSE Travel Confederation Travel Safety Sector Panel has shared their perspectives on the how and if a digital health passport could be the solution to safely re-opening borders and getting the world moving again. The Panel also invites members of the youth travel industry to join the discussion in the comments at the foot of this page.

“It’s not a new thing to be asked to produce evidence of vaccination and inoculations. Dating as far back as 1934, the World Health Organisation adopted a process to try to safeguard against the spread of yellow fever. It has now simply become a digital process, as evidenced by the apps available today.

Regardless of your view surrounding vaccinations, virus transmission and testing, countries are going to want to protect their citizens and infrastructure with potentially different requirements depending on their views and circumstances. Whatever the rules, giving travellers greater certainty and a simple way to navigate these rules will be incredibly important to the recovery of travel. Reducing any physical contact of documentation and improving the ability to validate certifications is a good thing in the current environment and I hope apps like these are welcomed in helping to expedite this issue. It will be interesting to see how countries adapt and produce the relevant documentation that can be seamlessly integrated into the apps.

It is an incredibly positive step for the global travel industry that we are starting conversations around how borders will re-open. Many of us might not have even thought we’d be in this position so early into 2021.”

Nick Pound, Travel Safety Panel Chair & Director of Partnerships, World Nomads

“It’s not a new thing to be asked to produce evidence of vaccination and inoculations. Dating as far back as 1934, the World Health Organisation adopted a process to try to safeguard against the spread of yellow fever. It has now simply become a digital process, as evidenced by the apps available today.

Regardless of your view surrounding vaccinations, virus transmission and testing, countries are going to want to protect their citizens and infrastructure with potentially different requirements depending on their views and circumstances. Whatever the rules, giving travellers greater certainty and a simple way to navigate these rules will be incredibly important to the recovery of travel. Reducing any physical contact of documentation and improving the ability to validate certifications is a good thing in the current environment and I hope apps like these are welcomed in helping to expedite this issue. It will be interesting to see how countries adapt and produce the relevant documentation that can be seamlessly integrated into the apps.

It is an incredibly positive step for the global travel industry that we are starting conversations around how boarders will re-open. Many of us might not have even thought we’d be in this position so early into 2021.”

Nick Pound, Travel Safety Panel Chair & Director of Partnerships, World Nomads

“We wake up every day and all seem to be more or less prepared to digest the newest infection rates and which restrictions we have to live through.

Even in our day-to-day life, the situation is changing constantly. Even more so for travelling: multiple different rules are in place for each country. Those, for example, entering Germany from risk areas must complete a digital entry registration form, be tested for Coronavirus and, depending on the regulations of the region in question, self-isolate.

As providers of travel insurance, we receive a lot of requests to confirm that certain insurance coverage meets the different requirements as set forth by national authorities.

Digital health certificates are considered to be a helpful tool to facilitate the safe and efficient resumption of international travel during the pandemic, by authentication of health records at border points of entry. Identifying people who are immune to the Novel Coronavirus or at lower risk of spreading it could help open up travel and other services, and the use of a health passport could allow governments to lift some pandemic-induced restrictions, allowing people to travel by air.

However, there are also critical voices:

“Most digital health certificates would require the collection of sensitive personal information,putting individuals’ privacy at risk,“ (Accessnow; The impact of COVID 19 health certificates).

“Digital Health Passes based on negative test results have a short shelf life, as people can catch the virus any time after taking the test,” (Alexandra Phelan, an infectious disease expert at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.).

The passes also rely on wide access to rapid testing and there is a risk that only wealthy countries have access to a vaccine.

With uncertainty surrounding when global access to vaccines will be a reality, and more knowledge about the longevity of immunity, digital health certificates will likely become a necessity to support the restarting of international mobility.”

Claudia Reichstein, Director International Sales, DR-WALTER

“We wake up every day and all seem to be more or less prepared to digest the newest infection rates and which restrictions we have to live through.

Even in our day-to-day life, the situation is changing constantly. Even more so for travelling: multiple different rules are in place for each country. Those, for example, entering Germany from risk areas must complete a digital entry registration form, be tested for Coronavirus and, depending on the regulations of the region in question, self-isolate.

As providers of travel insurance, we receive a lot of requests to confirm that certain insurance coverage meets the different requirements as set forth by national authorities.

Digital health certificates are considered to be a helpful tool to facilitate the safe and efficient resumption of international travel during the pandemic, by authentication of health records at border points of entry. Identifying people who are immune to the Novel Coronavirus or at lower risk of spreading it could help open up travel and other services, and the use of a health passport could allow governments to lift some pandemic-induced restrictions, allowing people to travel by air.

However, there are also critical voices:

“Most digital health certificates would require the collection of sensitive personal information,putting individuals’ privacy at risk,“ (Accessnow; The impact of COVID 19 health certificates).

“Digital Health Passes based on negative test results have a short shelf life, as people can catch the virus any time after taking the test,” (Alexandra Phelan, an infectious disease expert at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.).

The passes also rely on wide access to rapid testing and there is a risk that only wealthy countries have access to a vaccine.

With uncertainty surrounding when global access to vaccines will be a reality, and more knowledge about the longevity of immunity, digital health certificates will likely become a necessity to support the restarting of international mobility.”

Claudia Reichstein, Director International Sales, DR-WALTER

“The Travel Pass is a great tool to approach the resurrection of travelling in this COVID-19 world. However, knowing that governments are usually slow, and in many cases rapidly reactive to situations, then the Travel Pass success will depend on various factors:

1) General belief in the app by governments and carriers
2) Timely adoption of the app by governments and carriers
3) Speedy response to regulate and enforce the use of the app.

It seems to me that the Travel Pass app is trying to solve an urgent and clear need for the NOW. So, in the post-COVID-19 world, would governments and carriers be seduced or forced to continue the use of these Health Passports and will it become the new norm to travel with a health passport as well as standard travel documents? If so, we need to assume that five years from now, the only intention of travelling with a health passport would be for governments to have clear data of a traveller’s health or as a tool for the insurance industry.

From a legal and regulatory point of view, another alarming issue would be the use of that data in the currently overwhelmingly disorganised environment: how would a traveller’s data be managed and would there be any legal implications for the future? What are the particular policies in relation to the use of said data, as every government has different legal perspectives on data protection and some do not even have policies enforced?

In conclusion, the “Travel Pass digital health solution” may have a fast expiration date if there is no general international agreement on its use, enforcement, reciprocal acceptance, data provisions and protections, and most important extended need and utility in the post-pandemic world. On the other hand, the Travel Pass or any other Health Passport may have a future if perceived by governments and insurers as the new approach to deal with personal health issues even when COVID-19 is long gone or contained.”

Alex Thompson, Founder & COO, Legaroo

“The Travel Pass is a great tool to approach the resurrection of travelling in this COVID-19 world. However, knowing that governments are usually slow, and in many cases rapidly reactive to situations, then the Travel Pass success will depend on various factors:

1) General belief in the app by governments and carriers
2) Timely adoption of the app by governments and carriers
3) Speedy response to regulate and enforce the use of the app.

It seems to me that the Travel Pass app is trying to solve an urgent and clear need for the NOW. So, in the post-COVID-19 world, would governments and carriers be seduced or forced to continue the use of these Health Passports and will it become the new norm to travel with a health passport as well as standard travel documents? If so, we need to assume that five years from now, the only intention of travelling with a health passport would be for governments to have clear data of a traveller’s health or as a tool for the insurance industry.

From a legal and regulatory point of view, another alarming issue would be the use of that data in the currently overwhelmingly disorganised environment: how would a traveller’s data be managed and would there be any legal implications for the future? What are the particular policies in relation to the use of said data, as every government has different legal perspectives on data protection and some do not even have policies enforced?

In conclusion, the “Travel Pass digital health solution” may have a fast expiration date if there is no general international agreement on its use, enforcement, reciprocal acceptance, data provisions and protections, and most important extended need and utility in the post-pandemic world. On the other hand, the Travel Pass or any other Health Passport may have a future if perceived by governments and insurers as the new approach to deal with personal health issues even when COVID-19 is long gone or contained.”

Alex Thompson, Founder & COO, Legaroo

“Of course we welcome these initiatives as an important component in a toolbox to work toward recovery, but we must bear in mind that this is only one of several efforts needed around the world to help the travel industry rebound. Many other passes like that of IATA, such as the ICC AOKpass, the Ink Digital Health Platform (by Ink Aviation and Tento Health) and the Australia-based goPassport are all in development. It remains to be seen which one (or more than one) will become accepted as an industry standard.

Concerns have been raised over privacy and data protection, as well as spoofed data or counterfeit passes that would evade detection and compromise infection controls. Risk management in travel must continue to be an aspect we bear in the development of these solutions.

I have been working with other experts from around the world in ISO Technical Committee (TC) 228 on what would be one of many other tools. We have been intensively working over the last months on a Publicly Available Specification ISO PAS 5643 “Measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the tourism industry.” These specifications are scheduled to come out in April 2021.

The solution will come from multiple sources working together: governments, the industry, NGOs and others. It is a complex issue, and the plan will require the cooperation of many players in many fields, and not necessarily only from developed economies. It would be great to hear of other possible solutions from members of the WYSE community.”

Joel Mariër, Vice President, EBI Consulting Group

 

“Of course we welcome these initiatives as an important component in a toolbox to work toward recovery, but we must bear in mind that this is only one of several efforts needed around the world to help the travel industry rebound. Many other passes like that of IATA, such as the ICC AOKpass, the Ink Digital Health Platform (by Ink Aviation and Tento Health) and the Australia-based goPassport are all in development. It remains to be seen which one (or more than one) will become accepted as an industry standard.

Concerns have been raised over privacy and data protection, as well as spoofed data or counterfeit passes that would evade detection and compromise infection controls. Risk management in travel must continue to be an aspect we bear in the development of these solutions.

I have been working with other experts from around the world in ISO Technical Committee (TC) 228 on what would be one of many other tools. We have been intensively working over the last months on a Publicly Available Specification ISO PAS 5643 “Measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the tourism industry.” These specifications are scheduled to come out in April 2021.

The solution will come from multiple sources working together: governments, the industry, NGOs and others. It is a complex issue, and the plan will require the cooperation of many players in many fields, and not necessarily only from developed economies. It would be great to hear of other possible solutions from members of the WYSE community.”

Joel Mariër, Vice President, EBI Consulting Group

 

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