GCC 'Covid passport' would store vaccine, travel eligibility info

Abu Dhabi - The digital document containing health info is expected to facilitate travel.

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Ashwani Kumar

Published: Sat 27 Feb 2021, 1:37 PM

‘Covid-19 passports’ in the Gulf region could be closer to reality than previously thought. The digital passport — a certification, verification and validation system — could be an advanced form of the UAE’s Al Hosn mobile app, with not just vaccination and Covid-19 test data but also details like pre-travel eligibility requirements for the destination. It is expected to authenticate all country travel and health regulations, manage all documentation digitally and facilitate seamless travel.

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Covid-19: Unified GCC health passport in the works

A top Omani official has set the ball rolling for a unified Covid-19 health passport. Dr Saif Salim Al Abri, director-general of disease control and surveillance, Oman’s Ministry of Health, on Thursday said the GCC countries would discuss the passport at a meeting of health officials as early as next week, in addition to travel and movement between GCC countries. “A unified GCC health passport project has been envisaged to identify those who took Covid-19 vaccinations,” state news agency ONA quoted the Omani official as saying.

The announcement comes on the heels of a number of related developments in the UAE and other GCC countries. Last month, both the UAE’s national carriers Etihad Airways and Emirates announced launching the IATA Travel Pass in phases and on selected flights. Dubbed a ‘digital passport’, the pass shall be used to verify if a passenger’s pre-travel Covid-19 test or vaccination meets the eligibility requirements to undertake s journey.

Last week, Bahrain became one of the first countries in the world to launch a digital Covid-19 vaccine passport. A certificate — green ‘Covid-19 Vaccinated’ shield ­— will be issued to vaccinated people with the user’s name, date of birth, nationality and which vaccine they received. This will help authorities verify the validity of users by scanning a QR code, which is linked to a national vaccine register.

Separately, world leaders, airlines and trade associations like IATA have backed a novel digital solution aimed at fuelling economic recovery. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, after a virtual EU summit on Thursday, said digital vaccination certificates enabling people to travel in Europe will probably be available before summer.

“Everyone agreed that we need a digital vaccination certificate,” Merkel told a Press conference, adding that the EU Commission would need around three months to create the technical basis for such documents.

British Airways-owner IAG is counting on digital health passes to revive a travel recovery this summer, after the pandemic pushed it to a record $9 billion loss last year.

With its mass testing and vaccination drive, and a systematic registry through Al Hosn app, the UAE is well placed to either launch a digital Covid-19 passport or commit to the unified GCC health passport and once again show the world an efficient way towards the recovery phase.

Why digital Covid records are necessary

Efficient digital management of health credentials is vital to restart a recovery phase post Covid, said Alexandre de Juniac, director-general and CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Manual processes will not be able to cope with volumes once the recovery begins, De Juniac noted. “Digital solutions must be secure, work with existing systems, align with global standards and respect data privacy. In developing the IATA Travel Pass, these are fully in focus. The IATA Travel App will help to set the bar very high for managing health credentials, protecting against fraud and enabling a convenient travel process.”

Promoting the IATA Travel Pass, De Juniac noted: “It is becoming clear that vaccines and testing will play a role as the pandemic comes under control and economies ramp up, including the travel sector. The IATA Travel Pass will enable travellers to securely control their health data and share it with relevant authorities.

“A growing list of airlines, including Etihad Airways, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Malaysia Airlines, Air New Zealand, Copa Airlines, RwandAir, and Singapore Airlines have done or are committed to doing trials with IATA Travel Pass.”


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