China introduced the first “virus passes” on Tuesday in an effort to increase international travel because the United States and the European Union consider similar programs. The EU has said it plans to propose an EU-wide digital vaccination passport sometime this month.
From digital certificates to “health passports”, countries and airlines around the world hope to be able to restart travel by letting people prove their Covid-free status.
But with uneven access to vaccines around the world and growing concerns about data integrity, questions are swirling about how the measures will work in practice.
Is there an app for that?
Most applications under development are focused on facilitating travel and come in the form of smartphone apps with different criteria for pure health.
Vaccine passes, for example, are a popular way to approach evidence of immunity with jab expansions around the world.
There are also apps that accept positive antibody tests as evidence of immunity for those who have contracted the virus and recovered.
But the World Health Organization has warned that there is no evidence that recovering Covid victims with antibodies are protected from a second infection.
French President Emmanuel Macron recently proposed an even more, more localized form of Covid-free licensing agreement: the so-called “health passport”.
This certification would only be valid within the borders of France but would allow a fully vaccinated person to, for example, eat at restaurants and participate in certain events.
Where can I register?
This week, China launched a digital health certificate for its 1.3 billion citizens showing the holder’s vaccine status and virus test results.
Greece and Cyprus have vaccination passports specifically for travel to and from Israel, which have fully vaccinated 44 percent of the population.
Denmark and Sweden also want to launch health passes soon, where the European Union promises to propose a “green pass” to facilitate movement throughout the Union despite opposition from France and Germany.
Is it an official travel document?
No, and no efforts are currently being made to establish a document required for travel between countries.
The Chinese health passport is an attempt to make it easier for citizens to travel abroad, but without recognition from other countries it is of little use.
At present, the applications are intended to facilitate various health checks that still exist at different borders, with airlines among the main proponents.
Through several of its member companies, the International Air Transport Association has offered a digital passport that enables passengers to easily prove their health status before boarding.
Can we make it official?
Making health passes more stringent or requiring them to travel can present legal challenges.
A major concern is that the ban on vaccinating people from traveling would exacerbate inequality as access to jabs is far from universal.
There are also concerns about how applications would gain access to users’ personal data.
In France, there is already an official database of citizens who have been vaccinated against Covid-19, approved by the country’s privacy watchdog.
However, the body has warned that it will reconsider the question of whether the database would be used in connection with a health pass.