Jul 16, 2021 10:52 PM

China Southern Airlines to Be Country’s First to Test IATA Covid Pass

A man shows an EU digital Covid certificate on a smartphone June 20 in Turin, Italy.
A man shows an EU digital Covid certificate on a smartphone June 20 in Turin, Italy.

China Southern Airlines (600029.SH) will be the first Chinese airlines to test a Covid-19 travel pass launched by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the airline said.

The IATA Travel Pass is a mobile app that helps travelers store and share verified certificates for Covid-19 tests or vaccinations. China Southern, China’s biggest airline, signed an agreement with the IATA, and the app is now in the testing stage, the airline said. No official launch date was given.

It will promote the integration of China’s international travel health certificates with international standards and prevent the importation of Covid-19 cases, the airline said.

No other Chinese airline has disclosed plans to join the IATA Travel Pass. As the app involves information on flight tickets and vaccination certificates, testing will need to win approval from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) and other authorities, a person from another Chinese airline told Caixin.

IATA represents 290 airlines accounting for 82% of global air traffic. To help restore international travel amid the pandemic, IATA launched the travel pass in March. More than 70 airlines around the world are testing or promising to try the travel passes, including Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways, Emirates, British IAG Airlines Group, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas and Air New Zealand.

The travel pass works as a digital passport, enabling passengers to verify that their pre-travel tests or vaccinations meet the requirements of their destinations. They will also be able to share test and vaccination certificates with authorities and airlines to facilitate travel.

As travel increases, the pass can effectively improve the efficiency of airlines, airports and customs and significantly reduce waiting times for international passengers at the airport, China Southern said.

Some countries have launched their own official vaccination passports, but none of them validates vaccines made by Chinese companies, the person from a Chinese airline said. Cross validation of vaccinations involves communications and collaborations between governments, which is the biggest challenge, the person said.

Starting July 1, the EU rolled out a digital vaccine passport across its 27 member nations plus Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. The officially EU-endorsed vaccines include those made by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson but don’t include the AstraZeneca shot made in India or other vaccines manufactured in China and Russia.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that countries do not require proof of vaccination as the only pathway or condition for international travel, given limited global access and inequitable distribution of vaccines. WHO also suggests that countries recognize for international travel all Covid-19 vaccines that have received WHO emergency-use listing.

Two Chinese vaccines — manufactured by Beijing Institute of Biological Products and Sinovac Life Sciences Co. Ltd. — are included on WHO’s emergency use list.

Singapore is in discussions with China, Australia, Malaysia, South Korea and other countries on setting up a mechanism to recognize each other's vaccination certificates. Singapore has already accepted the IATA Travel Pass.

Contact reporter Denise Jia ( and editor Bob Simison (

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