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Era of digital health passports is arriving; travel community looking for the possibility of vaccine passports

DUBLIN: Airlines and major travel agencies are looking for the possibility of COVID vaccine passports to facilitate travel during Pandemic. Some people see this passport as a golden opportunity to travel or a short cut to avoid chaos and discrimination.

But it remains to be seen whether these passports will ‘pass’ under the strict lockdown restrictions imposed by countries including Ireland. Questions have been raised as to whether vaccination certificates will lead to a return to travel and whether vaccinated travelers will be excluded from the quarantine.

Lockdown travel restrictions have been tightened in Ireland this week. Holiday travels and non-essential foreign trips are not allowed here. A fine of €500 for violating the 5km limit and PCR tests are mandatory for foreign travels. Those who fail to produce a PCR test will be fined €190. Also, returnees need a minimum of six days quarantine.

The Irish Department of Health says it is not yet clear whether the vaccine will prevent the virus from infecting individuals or spreading to others. So the impact of vaccinations on international travel policies has not yet been confirmed. Therefore, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned governments to be vigilant against the introduction of immunity passports. A spokesman said that the new travel policy would be considered but the current priority would be to implement travel restrictions.

At the same time, countries such as Iceland and Romania exempt vaccination passport holders from border checks and quarantine requirements. The Seychelles also allows passengers who have been vaccinated, as in Romania, to avoid quarantine. Cyprus says it plans to do so from March 1.

Disappointment for tourism and aviation sectors

While everyone agrees that it is time to avoid unnecessary travel, this is a huge setback for the tourism and aviation sectors. Millions of people in Ireland work in these sectors. Most of them are people who haven’t been able to go home or see family and friends for a year. The tourist community hopes that with the advent of the vaccination passport, these problems will be solved and free travel will be possible.

Will digital health ‘passports’ be successful?

The travel world hopes that digital health ‘passports’ like IATA’s Travel Pass, will become the ‘golden ticket’ to travel. Emirates is launching a non-profit commonpass app piloted with United and Lufthansa.

British Airways said it and American Airlines would trial Daon’s VeriFLY, which allows people “to combine travel verification documents and COVID-19 test results.” The airline says this will ensure that passengers fully meet their entry requirements to their destination before leaving home. “Certified customers will be fast-tracked through the airport where specially designated desks will be available for check in,” it said. Long distance travellers will need to keep this ‘Yellow Card’ regularly. Once all this is ready, airlines will allow travel, but it remains to be seen whether countries will accept these passports.

The case of those who are unable to be vaccinated due to medical reasons or those who refuse to be vaccinated should also be considered. But airlines and travel agencies say the large number of people taking the vaccine is a great relief. Last week Tourism Ireland conducted a research survey on its major source markets. Of those, 78% of UK and 82% of US respondents said they would take a vaccine. At the same time, it fell to 68% in Germany and 45% in France.

There are countries where vaccines cannot be released quickly. Those who want to fly with a vaccine passport need to keep that in mind as well.

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