They are being spruiked as the post-pandemic ticket to travel freedom.
A ‘passport’ of sorts which will play as a crucial key for cities and countries reliant on tourism dollars to revive struggling economies.
Dubbed the ‘vaccine pass’ or ‘vaccine passport’, these documents – which are yet to rolled out anywhere in the world – would essentially be a digital document than ensures tourists are virus-free when border lockdowns lift and travelling resumes.
The travel documents would be used in tandem with existing passports to prove tourists and other travellers aren’t bringing the virus with them when leaving their home country and arriving in another.
Some versions of the digital document, should it come to fruition, will also allow people to show that they have tested negative for the virus, and therefore can travel more easily.
The document could be a big asset for the aviation industry’s road to recovery, with such digital documents providing “confidence” and “ease of travel” among passengers.
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According to The New York Times, in just a few weeks, Etihad Airways and Emirates will start using a digital travel pass, developed by the International Air Transport Association, to help passengers manage their travel plans and provide the airlines and respective governments documentation that they have been vaccinated or tested for COVID-19.
According to some experts, the rollout of this ‘golden ticket’ essentially proving a person’s
inoculation or immunity to COVID-19 will be pivitol, given parts of the tourism industry will not survive to a time when majority of the world has been vaccinated.
“The rollout of vaccines is a step in the right direction, but the restart of tourism cannot wait,” Zurab Pololikashvili, the secretary-general of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, said in Madrid last month.
“Vaccines must be part of a wider, co-ordinated approach that includes certificates and passes for safe cross-border travel.”
While Australia is preparing to roll out the coronavirus vaccination program from the end of February, some state leaders have floated using government technology, such as the Services NSW app, as a vaccine passport to encourage uptake.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said last month that she would be open to using “positive ways”, such as a health passport to encourage people to vaccinate rather then punishment for not taking the jab.
“We have, through Service NSW, the ability to actually have people have a tick on their phone if they have received a vaccine, as evidence … so I think there are positive ways that we can incentivise people to take a vaccine,” she said.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews also threw his support behind a “vaccination passport” in November as a possible way to replace mandatory quarantine for both international and domestic travel.
“This is how we’ll travel around the country freely, this is how we’re going to travel around the world and it’s the basis on which we’ll invite people here,” Mr Andrews told radio station Triple M.
“There won’t be hotel quarantine once we get a vaccine. It’ll be ‘if you’re not vaccinated you’re not coming’.”
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce spruiked the idea of a health passport as part of travel with the Australian airline, suggesting mandatory COVID-19 immunisation will be required to board.
Mr Joyce said in November that his airline would make proof of vaccination a requirement for all passengers flying to or from Australia.
Graham Turner, the founder and CEO of the country’s largest travel booking group Flight Centre, agreed with Mr Joyce saying that the only way to have confidence is with a form of documentation that specifies a passenger’s vaccination status.
“The coronavirus is going to be around for the next few years at least and if there are effective vaccines … the obvious way to make sure that travellers don’t spread it a lot and don’t have to quarantine would be to have a vaccination requirement,” Mr Turner told the Sydney Morning Herald.
But while there’s a strong argument that a form of globally recognised vaccine documentation could help restart international travel, experts do have some fears around what protection these passports could ensure, and how the digital documents might be abused.
“It’s about trying to digitise a process that happens now and make it into something that allows for more harmony and ease, making it easier for people to travel between countries without having to pull out different papers for different countries and different documents at different checkpoints,” said Nick Careen, senior vice president for airport, passenger, cargo and security at the International Air Transport Association said.
“One key element vital for the restart of tourism is consistency and harmonisation of rules and protocols regarding international travel.
“Evidence of vaccination, for example, through the co-ordinated introduction of what may be called ‘health passports’ can offer this. They can also eliminate the need for quarantine on arrival, a policy which is also standing in the way of the return of international tourism.”
The idea of digital documents have obviously caught the attention of technology giants around the world hoping to weigh in on the race to restart overseas travel.
Tech companies such as IBM have developed smartphone apps or digital wallets into which individuals can upload details of COVID-19 tests and vaccinations.
Along with IBM, several other companies and technology groups have begun developing smartphone apps or systems for individuals to upload details about their COVID-19 tests and vaccinations, which could ultimately be shown in order to enter concert venues, stadiums, movie theatres and even offices.
Thomas Crampton, chief marketing and communications officer for The Commons Project, told CNN Business the development of these passports will be the future of travel.
“You can be tested every time you cross a border. You cannot be vaccinated every time you cross a border,” he said.