With Japan preparing to host the Olympic Games in July, without inbound spectators, the country’s public and private sectors are taking steps to help restart inbound and outbound travel albeit with a longer term vision.
Japan will also be issuing digital health certificates to citizens who have been inoculated, according to Nikkei.
The Nikkei report also added that the digital certificate can be managed on a mobile app and will be in line with international standards, allowing the individual to present proof of vaccination at immigration checkpoints.
In the public sector, All Nippon Airways (ANA) plans to trial the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Travel Pass app, which allows passengers to verify if they meet the Covid-19 testing requirements of their destination and share their test results with airlines and authorities.
“Through our trial, we hope to contribute to the development of the digital solution, which aims to make the travel experience more seamless, secure and contactless,” said Yuji Hirako, president and CEO of ANA.
Greece joined Cyprus which announced a similar proposal for tourists last week, and the country is considering opening its borders to tourists who have received a coronavirus vaccine as early as May, it has been reported. Travellers who can prove that they have had a Covid-19 vaccine, may be allowed into Greece early this summer without any restriction.
Its neighbour, Cyprus, gave hint of similar policy. Cypriot Deputy Tourism Minister Savvas Perdios said on Thursday: "We have informed the British government that from May 1 we will facilitate the arrival of British nationals who have been vaccinated ... so they can visit Cyprus without a negative test or needing to quarantine."
Visitors would need to be inoculated with vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency, the minister said. “The second dose of the vaccine must have been administered at least a week before travel,” Perdios added.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen announced that plans for a 'digital green pass' will be set out this month to allow tourism and business travel to resume on the continent. The pass, a version of which has already been adopted in Israel, would allow people to prove they have been vaccinated or tested negative for Covid-19.
But British officials have warned that Europe's slow vaccine progress means travel to the EU this summer remains shrouded in uncertainty.
For the aviation sector, it’s widely accepted that the digital health passport for travel is on its way – it’s inevitable.
Currently, the only disease that requires an official international certificate of vaccination is yellow fever. This is called the 'yellow card', or International Certificate of Vaccination and Prophylaxis, and is managed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
But with the coronavirus, the proposed digital health applications based upon the concept of a vaccination certificate would attest one of three things: that the holder has been vaccinated, has tested negative for the virus or perhaps has recently recovered from it. Their use could allow governments to lift some pandemic-induced restrictions, allowing people to travel.
In a statement, The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said WHO is developing new standards that will make these certificates “vastly more secure and will dramatically reduce fraud”. The IATA Travel Pass will be designed to accommodate these new standards.
Sweden and Denmark announced plans this week to roll out digital coronavirus vaccination passports, reigniting a debate around the use of health documents as a way to ease lockdowns that are crippling the global economy.
Back in October, Estonia and the World Health Organisation started a pilot for a digital vaccine certificate, with the Baltic country announcing earlier this year that it had begun testing a separate "digital immunity passport".
In Asia, China is one of many nations to have put in to place an app-based health code system that uses travel and medical data to give people a red, yellow or green rating indicating the likelihood of them having the virus – and whether or not they can walk around freely.
IATA is partnering with governments and airlines around the world to trial its own vaccine passport, the IATA Travel Pass – a mobile app to help passengers easily and securely manage their travel in line with government requirements for Covid-19 control.
Rwandair is the first African airline to trial the app, Ms Yvonne Manzi Makolo, CEO of RwandAir, said. “RwandAir is proud to be the first African airline to trial IATA Travel Pass, which could reinforce all the health and safety measures and protocols which we have put in place to restore customer confidence to fly once more. We are incredibly proud to be part of IATA’s Industry Advisory Panel, to ensure we guide the technology development in a way that covers the unique requirements of our passenger profile.”
With aviation being the backbone of many economies across the world, IATA thinks the IATA Travel Pass will help give governments confidence that passengers have complied with health requirements enabling aviation to reconnect the region’s economies with each other and to the world.
In addition to checking travel requirements, IATA Travel Pass will also include a registry of testing and eventually vaccination centres – making it more convenient for passengers to find testing centres and labs at their departure location which meet the standards for testing and vaccination requirements of their destination.
The platform will also enable authorised labs and test centres to securely send test results or vaccination certificates to passengers. This will manage and allow the secure flow of necessary information amongst all stakeholders and to provide a seamless passenger experience.
While health passports could in theory be paper-based or digital, trials have largely focused on digital solutions as inequitable access to the Covid-19 vaccine could incentivise people to falsify papers.
* The author is an aviation analyst. Twitter handle: @AlexInAir