Caixin
Feb 26, 2021 06:14 AM
WORLD

Airline Trade Group Plans to Launch Digital Vaccine Passport in March

Singapore Airlines is among air carriers conducting trials of the IATA travel pass.
Singapore Airlines is among air carriers conducting trials of the IATA travel pass.

A new app to show whether travelers have received Covid-19 tests and vaccines is set to launch next month. A number of airlines have signed up to test the app, which also raised concerns from health experts and rights groups.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is developing the IATA Travel Pass. The grade group representing about 290 airlines around the world. IATA hopes the free-to-use mobile app will help countries to reopen borders and restart air travel without the need for quarantines.

Resuming international travel is critical to the recovery of the global airline industry. But some industry insiders said that while vaccinations offer a slice of hope for the airline industry, it’s unclear whether vaccinations will become a compulsory requirement for international travel. And questions such as how effective the vaccines will be and whether governments will recognize vaccinations from other countries remain unanswered.

Singapore Airlines, Copa Airlines in Panama, Etihad Airways and Emirates in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar Airways, Air New Zealand and Malaysia Airlines are among the carriers conducting trials of the travel pass, IATA told Caixin.

The launch of the IATA Travel Pass would be only a first step, an IATA official said. To achieve global adoption will require multi-party coordination with governments, which poses the biggest challenge, the official said.

Governments decide on travel requirements, and airlines and passengers need to comply, IATA says on its website, emphasizing that the airline body is not itself mandating that passengers must have a Covid-19 inoculation to travel.

Several countries have already implemented their own travel passes. Since November, China’s aviation regulator has further tightened rules for international flights, requiring travelers to obtain a health declaration code to board flights to China. To receive the code, travelers need to upload negative results of both nucleic acid and IgM antibody tests within 48 hours before boarding.

Ma Tao, IATA’s vice president for North Asia, said the IATA Travel Pass would be very similar to the health code implemented in China.

Iceland began rolling out digital vaccination passports in January. Denmark said earlier this month that it would launch a digital coronavirus passport, which will initially be available to business travelers. Sweden is also due to launch a similar passport by summer.

The U.S., the U.K. and the European Union are among those considering such a move. But some have voiced concerns.

Covid-19 vaccine certifications should not be used as a condition for travel amid a global shortage of shots, the World Health Organization's emergencies chief Mike Ryan said last month, as it's still not clear whether vaccinated people will continue to be affected or transmit the virus.

Some experts have raised concerns about the impact of vaccine passports on data privacy and human rights. Experts also warned that such vaccine passports would discriminate against countries without sufficient access to vaccines.

Contact reporter Denise Jia (huijuanjia@caixin.com) and editor Bob Simison (bobsimison@caixin.com).

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