A COVID-19 “vaccination passport” that Qantas and other airlines will likely require for international flights is set to be contained within a smartphone app, as positive news about the development of several vaccines buoys hopes of a return to quarantine-free travel.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said on Monday his airline was looking to make it compulsory for passengers to prove they are vaccinated against COVID-19 before boarding flights to or from Australia, and that he expected this to become common across the industry.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Tuesday that it was up to Qantas to come up with its own policies and the government had not decided whether it would make vaccinations compulsory for international visitors.
The government’s COVID-19 vaccination policy, which was released earlier this month, says it “may introduce border entry or re-entry requirements that are conditional on proof of vaccination”.
Mr Joyce said whether Qantas passengers would need to be vaccinated for domestic flights would depend on rates of COVID-19 infection in Australia.
Qantas is interested in adopting the International Air Transport Association’s COVID-19 digital “passport”, which the global airline industry group revealed overnight as a way for passengers to prove their test or vaccination status wherever they travel and give governments the confidence to allow international travel without quarantine.
Based around a smartphone app, IATA’s Travel Pass provides passengers with information about the testing or vaccination requirements in the country they are travelling to and where locally they can receive those tests or vaccinations from verified providers.
The testing and vaccination centres will issue certificates recognised by governments globally directly to the passenger’s smartphone “digital passport”. Based on their travel itinerary, the Travel Pass app will produce an “OK to travel” status the passenger can use to satisfy airlines and immigration authorities they meet their test and vaccination requirements.
Nick Careen, IATA’s senior vice president of airport, passenger, cargo and security, said the system would get people travelling safely again. “In the immediate term that means giving governments confidence that systematic COVID-19 testing can work as a replacement for quarantine requirements,” he said. “And that will eventually develop into a vaccine program.”
IATA said it will run a trial of its Travel Pass system next month with airline group IAG, which owns British Airways, Aer Lingus and Iberia, with a slated launch on Apple phones in the first quarter of 2021 and on Android devices in the second quarter.
American carrier United Airlines is trialing an alternative system called CommonPass app, which was developed by the World Economic Forum, on flights between London and New York. Hong Kong and Singapore are considering using the same app when they establish a “travel bubble”.
Public health expert Holly Seale said it was important to note that travel-related immunisation was not new. “We have lived for years with these types of requirements; people are very happy to receive a travel-related vaccine to keep them safe when they’re abroad,” Dr Seale said.
“Whether for Yellow Fever or people on a religious pilgrimage, we require vaccines.”
Yellow fever vaccines are a requirement for entering some countries, and they are recommended for dozens of countries in Africa, the Caribbean, Central America and South America.
Dr Seale said travel vaccinations were not just about keeping the individual safe, but about protecting potentially vulnerable communities in places that do not have the same health infrastructure as Australia, as well as family and friends at home after people return.
“We’ve spent so much effort to reduce local transmission, if we’re not careful and considerate of how we travel and inadvertently bring something back into Australia, what have all those [public health] efforts been spent on to risk that again?” she said.
Dr Seale said the federal government needed to discuss whether a COVID-19 vaccine should be a requirement for travel following Qantas’ announcement.
Opposition health spokesman Chris Bowen said the Labor Party supported keeping any COVID-19 vaccine voluntary, but he understands Qantas’ position.
“We want to see international travel as soon as it’s safe to do so and the vaccine will be an important part of that,” he said. “I think Qantas deserves the bipartisan support of all involved in the efforts they take to ensure the health and safety of their passengers and, importantly, their staff.”
An Air New Zealand spokeswoman said the airline was encouraged by recent news around vaccines, but it was ultimately up to governments to decide when and how borders would reopen.
“We continue to work closely with authorities on this,” she said.
Source: Thanks smh.com