For the many countries relying on tourism to bolster their economy, Covid-19 and worldwide travel restrictions have dealt a sharp blow over the last year. So, it is no wonder that Governments around the world are now exploring the idea of vaccination passports in an effort to speed up the safe return of international travel. Just last week, the EU announced plans for a “digital green pass” that would allow travellers to prove their vaccination status or negative Covid-19 test result, enabling people to move freely between countries for work or pleasure.
Some countries have already taken great leaps to implement measures to facilitate travel; Iceland is issuing digital passports to its fully inoculated citizens and in Bahrain, the country’s BeAware app displays a certification of the user’s vaccination status.
The concept of digital passporting is however proving controversial, with public concerns over data security and privacy as well as fears of discrimination against those who are unable (or unwilling) to get vaccinated. In this short article, I explore some of the challenges that lay ahead on the road to unlocking travel to other countries.
Firstly, it’s worth noting that the concept of a vaccination passport is nothing new, and certain countries already require immunisations before visitors can travel there. Many countries in East and Southeast Asia for example require yellow fever, typhoid and malaria vaccinations, and proof of these must be available for presentation when a person crosses the border.
The difference between that and the current debate appears to come down to two main elements, the sheer scale of the inoculation programme and the concept of a “digital” medical record.
Very few countries have avoided at least one case of Coronavirus in the past year, and of those that claim to have had no confirmed cases of the virus, the majority are remote islands in the Pacific or Atlantic oceans as well as North Korea and Turkmenistan, though those claims remain disputed. Covid-19 is a global challenge requiring countries to work together to find global solutions, particularly when it comes to reopening borders.
It could take years to fully work through this challenge, and I believe we are unlikely to see a harmonised or unified approach across the world anytime soon. Some countries, such as Spain and Greece are keen to reopen their borders to tourists as soon as possible, whereas others are more reticent and may look to implement more stringent rules. We can also expect to see a regional approach to border controls and agreements between countries that share borders or are physically very close. In the short term however, alternative solutions must be expedited if countries are to kickstart their economies, both across and within their borders.
The idea of a digital vaccination passport is also not a new one. At Integra we already offer our customers an app-based electronic health vault as part of their healthcare plan. Within this secure, portable vault, customers can upload their medical records, vaccination certificates, copies of scans etc. allowing them to have these vital medical details to hand wherever they are in the world. They control their data, and it is completely secure.
The security, privacy and ownership of data is one of the biggest challenges a digital passport faces, and many citizens are rightly concerned about who will have access to and usage of their personal data at any given time. There are huge risks involved here and it will take time and very careful consideration to get right. The biometric passport for example took ten years to be implemented.
The movement of people through the “new normal” will present considerable challenges for years to come and brokers have a key role to play to ensure that customers are well protected when travelling abroad. Insurance policies are likely to tighten up their pandemic exclusions and with so much still unknown about the effects of “long Covid”, it is likely that this lingering illness could very well be factored into the wordings for pre-existing conditions. Brokers will need to be stringent in checking policy wordings to ensure that they are presenting the right solutions to their clients, working with experts to understand the types of healthcare plans available and whether they carry with them additional benefits, such as electronic health vaults or particularly favourable conditions.
Whether the world can unite around one accepted vaccination passport approach or it is a more piecemeal process, I do hope we can all return to taking foreign holidays, and going on business trips to meet partners in other countries sooner rather than later. But when we do, we must expect to see some clear changes in how we move around the world.