Hoops still to jump through for pandemic travel passes

September 17, 2021 | 14:52
The path for Vietnamese airlines to reopen for the international market remains narrowed because of the absence of a global standard for travel passes.
Hoops still to jump through for pandemic travel passes

On September 12, national flag carrier Vietnam Airlines successfully piloted the IATA Travel Pass on flights from Hanoi to Seoul. This followed a similar pilot on a flight from Hanoi to London the previous week, making it the first flight from Vietnam to the EU applying the pass.

The developments, which included a Hanoi-Tokyo flight last month, are expected to open positive prospects for the recovery of international flights.

The Hanoi-based airline plans to pilot further IATA Travel Pass flights from Hanoi to London on September 21 and on weekly Hanoi-Tokyo flights.

Talking to VIR about the preparation of scenarios for COVID-19 safety response when the population is fully vaccinated, Deputy Minister of Health Tran Van Thuan said, “The Ministry of Health will soon have discussions with both relevant ministries and agencies. Firstly, we will have internal workings in the ministry with advice from scientists and relevant departments and agencies, and then work with those ministries before submitting proposals to the government.”

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) started work on the IATA Travel Pass in the last quarter of 2020. Over 290 airlines across the globe are represented by the association. The travel pass is a mobile application under development allowing travellers to simply and securely store and manage certifications for COVID-19 tests or vaccines. It ensures information consistency between governments, testing units, airlines, and passengers, thus providing governments with the confidence to reopen borders.

More positive signals from countries and international markets pin high hopes for Vietnam Airlines and other air carriers globally about reopening. The IATA has also announced that the EU Digital COVID Certificate (DCC) and UK NHS COVID Pass can now be uploaded into the IATA pass as verified proof of vaccination for travel.

“COVID-19 vaccination certificates are becoming a widespread requirement for international travel. Handling the European and UK certificates through the IATA Travel Pass is an important step forward, providing convenience for travellers, authenticity for governments, and efficiency for airlines,” said Nick Careen, IATA senior vice president for Operations Safety and Security.

The EU DCC is implemented in the 27 EU member states and a number of reciprocal agreements have been agreed with other states’ own vaccination certificates, including Switzerland, Turkey, and Ukraine.

Globally, according to the Our World in Data, 41.1 per cent of the world’s population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine this year.

However, the path for official common application of a pass globally remains tough for Vietnam Airlines and others. The IATA admits that there is still the absence of a single global standard for digital vaccination certificates, and up to 60 other countries are looking to use the DCC specification for their own certification. The association urges the World Health Organization (WHO) to revisit its work to develop a global digital vaccine standard.

“The absence of a global standard makes it much harder for airlines, border authorities and governments to recognise and verify a traveller’s digital vaccination certificate. The industry is working around this by developing solutions that can recognise and verify certificates from individual countries. But this is a slow process that is hampering the restart of international travel,” said Careen at the IATA.

Worse still, the highly transmissible Delta variant has caused a new surge in COVID-19 infections in countries from the United Kingdom and the United States, to those in Africa and Asia. The WHO said the Delta variant is the most transmissible variant of the coronavirus, which first emerged in China in late 2019.

Takeshi Kasai, regional director of the WHO said, “The Delta variant is a real threat, testing the capacity of even the strongest public health systems in our region. Every country needs to continue doing all that it can to control the virus.”

By Tung Anh

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