Passengers wait to be tested after they arrive at Toronto’s Pearson airport after mandatory coronavirus testing took effect for international arrivals, on Feb. 15. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)
International travel declined by around 90 percent after the pandemic hit — but those still crossing borders may have begun to encounter a novel concept: “covid-19 passports,” or a mobile platform that proves a traveler meets a country’s requirements, such as a negative coronavirus test or, in a few cases, having received the coronavirus vaccine.
Also called health passports, these are not official documents granted by governments; rather, they are digital passes issued by apps, and accepted by some companies and countries, which have arisen to meet demands by airlines and governments that travelers have a negative coronavirus status. Instead of showing paper-based proof of a test or vaccination card at an airport — which could either be forged, lost or arbitrarily rejected without a streamlined process — a traveler would be able to store and certify their information via their phone.
Increasing the ease of travel is essential to boosting economies. These platforms, however, also give rise to privacy and equity concerns — such as how to ensure personal data is protected and how to address the needs of billions of people without access to a digital device or digitized health care, yet alone the vaccine, if they seek to travel.
All of this is why, despite the hype, industry experts cautioned that paper trails showing test results and inoculation dates are not going away anytime soon.
Instead, the need now is to “augment paper to be more secure, more privacy-protecting and more verifiable,” said Dakota Gruener, executive director of ID2020, a U.S.-based organization that advocates for digital IDs and is crafting standards for covid-19 passports.
Similar concerns around privacy and equity loom large over plans by countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Israel to create their own similarly named covid-19 passports, which, along the lines of airlines, could be used to limit domestic access to public places based on testing or vaccination status.
Good Health Pass Collaborative
The Good Health Pass Collaborative is an open, inclusive, cross-sector initiative, bringing together leading companies and organizations from the technology, health, and travel sectors. Our members are creating a blueprint for interoperable digital health pass systems and building a safe path to restore international travel and restart the global economy.