Singapore Airlines crew members and passengers in the transit hall at Singapore’s Changi Airport on January 14, 2021.
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When the European Union She announced her plans To receive a “digital green certificate” this month, the tourism industry breathed a sigh of relief that perhaps the summer could be saved.
Since the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic, the concept of a “vaccine passport” has been brought up regularly. Once vaccinated against Covid-19, a person can carry evidence of vaccination that will allow them to travel or access services that have otherwise been closed under lockdown.
The EU certification, which avoids using the term “passport,” will create a digital common system for Europe, most likely in the form of a smartphone app, to prove vaccination, negative testing, or recovery from the virus.
EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said that a common EU-wide approach to such certification would “gradually restore freedom of movement” in the region.
“It is also an opportunity to influence global standards and lead by example based on our European values such as data protection,” He said earlier this month.
Various industries around the world have been tampering with these permits for months.
IBM Working with New York State On a digital health card that uses blockchain technology to validate a person’s test or vaccine credentials, Walmart, which is making shots in its stores, has also recently backed calls for vaccine certificates.
an Apple And the Google It previously collaborated in setting standards for tracking contacts in smartphones. The European Union has He suggested that the tech giants may cooperate again in these efforts With the World Health Organization , But the World Health Organization has since denied this.
Now with the acceleration of the introduction of vaccines, the prospect of obtaining digital passports or certificates has caught the attention of many different industries.
The aviation and tourism industries – which have both been brutally exposed over the past year – have been the most keen to pursue this technology to reopen global travel.
The International Air Transport Association introduced a “travel card” late last year and launched a trial with Singapore Airlines this month.
The app was initially built to show evidence of a negative test, and the app will be expanded to show evidence of vaccination as well, according to Kathryn Kaczynska, assistant director of corporate communications at IATA.
Kaczynska added that the International Air Transport Association does not support imposing travel vaccines, but the industry group views the app instead as one way to help open up international travel.
Ultimately, the system will be integrated into the airline’s application, but there needs to be coherence in how vaccine passport proposals are launched and operational, Kaczynska told CNBC.
Vaccine passports electronically store medical information displayed as a QR code.
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“We are working closely with governments because we need to make sure that things are interoperable,” she said.
“It is the governments that need to come up with the standard for digital vaccine certificates, and then we need to make sure that it works with the IATA passport and with the other applications out there. Our country is particularly focused on aviation but for it to function there, clearly, interoperability is needed. Interface between the different standards. ”
With sensitive health-related data in operation, the launch of any digital service raises questions about privacy and data protection.
IATA is working with Evernym, a blockchain company that has been working on various projects for decentralized digital identities, including one with the Red Cross.
“The main thing about IATA Travel Pass is that it is decentralized technology, which basically means that all data is not stored on a central database in any way. All data is stored on the passenger’s phone,” Kaczynska said.
According to the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, its proposed system would require only “basic information”. This includes the vaccine or test data and a unique identifier for the certification.
Nicole Hasson, a professor at Binghamton University who specializes in public health ethics, said spreading any type of vaccine passport widely needs careful thought.
Because vaccines are distributed across a mixture of demographics, she said, passports or certificates need to consider exemptions to avoid any discrimination against people who have not yet been vaccinated or have health reasons for not being vaccinated.
“It might allow some kind of passport system, but then there should be health exceptions. There should be care exceptions for people who already have good reasons for their need to access these services (like travel),” Hassoun told CNBC.
This is partly why the EU proposal does not only focus on vaccination and includes negative tests.
One particular concern is that vaccines are still very new. Hassoun added that while data from countries such as Israel appear promising, more data is needed to verify how effective the various vaccines are in reducing transmission and how immunity will look in the long term.
“We need more data on the effects of transmission for people who have been vaccinated or people who may have normal immunity, how long will this last? What happens when there are new strains?” She said.
“We need to pay attention to what the private sector is doing as well as what governments are doing and make sure we regulate if we have to and make sure it’s fair for everyone.”
And she cautioned that providing passports and certificates must be fair because deploying the same vaccines at present is not. While Western countries like the United Kingdom and the United States are moving forward, others have lagged behind, such as Brazil, which has endured some of the world’s worst outbreaks and are struggling to spread.
For the European Union, which has its own supply problems Amid disagreements with AstraZenecaThe clock is ticking to prepare the digital green certificate for the summer season.
The framework will require rapid review and approval by the European Parliament and Council if Europe and its tourism sector are to avoid losing a second summer.