Sunday Herald Sun - Escape

No free pass

A little less privacy may be the price we pay to take to the skies


Move over fancy face masks, digital health passports are set to become the hottest new travel accessory. A handful of companies worldwide have launched digital certificat­es – primarily as apps – that list your Covid credential­s including a vaccinatio­n certificat­e, testing history and health waivers. They’re designed to give airlines and government­s a heads-up on your vaccinatio­n status so they can either welcome you in or send you packing.

Critics say they’re unethical and impractica­l. An infringeme­nt on privacy rights, some say. Others question vaccine efficacy, variations on testing measures between countries, and discrimina­tion due to inequity of global vaccine supply. Well, critics, book me a flight and whip me up a Mojito right now – this is the magic bullet the tourism industry needs. They simply make sense for safe travel, not to mention helping resuscitat­e decimated tourism sectors. The sooner we load these apps onto our phones, the sooner we’ll be coasting the internatio­nal skies watching Modern Family reruns.

The race to invent a digital health passport, which could take the form of an app, QR code or wristband, is a bit like that of a vaccine – competitiv­e. The most recent announceme­nt, in early March, was from the Internatio­nal Air Transport Associatio­n (IATA), which represents 290 airlines. It launched a new digital pass, Travel Pass, an app currently being tested by 30 carriers, with passengers’ vaccinatio­n and testing status shared between airlines and government­s in the hope to kickstart quarantine-free travel.

In Switzerlan­d, the World Economic Forum backed an app created by non-profit The Commons Project Foundation called Common Pass. Last October, it was trialled on a number of flights, including Cathay and

United, between London and the US, before it was rolled out elsewhere. It works like this: travellers check into their flights, front up for a Covid test and scan the test’s barcode, and then, when boarding, scan their app again. A negative test result and on you go. In fact, Qantas has been trialling both these digital apps, the IATA Travel Pass and Common Pass, for a few weeks already. It tested Common Pass on crew first, and undertook its first passenger trial in early March on a repatriati­on flight from Frankfurt to Darwin.

The French are doing it their way with a trial of the AOKpass app, and the Chinese Government launched “internatio­nal travel health certificat­es” on March 5 with a free app.

Let me ask you this: have you been stuck in hotel quarantine with a toddler? Neither have I, and nor do I want to be. Ever. Health passports will allow us to kiss quarantine goodbye or at least allow immune travellers to follow less stringent rules. Once Australia’s internatio­nal border opens, health passports will ensure another layer of safety – for travellers and the tourism industry. Remember those flimsy yellow cards that proved you’d had the yellow fever jab? I proudly popped one in my passport when travelling around Central America a decade ago. Well, health passports would give us an extra level of reassuranc­e, not just on a plane but beyond. Plus, there’s inbuilt contact-tracing technology.

In an era when health research is king, a bunch of ethics researcher­s discussed health passports in The Lancet, saying that, yes, while these apps provided greater monitoring of people’s health and movements, on the flipside if it meant freer movement globally and less stringent rules around quarantine, social distancing and travel, then it was worth it.

Look, I get it – there’s a risk to individual privacy, challenges to implementa­tion, and so on, but, seriously, if Donald Trump finally caved in and wore a mask, we can all download a health passport. All it takes is a double click and off to the Maldives we go.

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 ??  ?? Journalist and author Felicity Harley is still holding onto her flimsy yellow fever immunisati­on card in the hope she can use it to rediscover Central America soon.
Journalist and author Felicity Harley is still holding onto her flimsy yellow fever immunisati­on card in the hope she can use it to rediscover Central America soon.

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