The year 2020 was the year the world went into a standstill. The COVID-19 pandemic took the world by storm and has closed down businesses around the globe, put travel into a stop and practically placed the entire world into a lockdown. What started as a new kind of virus in China has been spread throughout the international community through human movement and scientists all over the world have been scrambling to control the virus that has changed the way the world lived its life.

Some of the most heavily-affected industries are travel and tourism. Travel was limited only to “essential movement” and the bringing home of stranded individuals. However, more than a year since the onset of the pandemic, international communities have slowly been getting up from the slump due to the birth and rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. Various variants have been released such as AstraZeneca, Moderna, Sinovac, Pfizer, Sputnik and Novavax. As per the World Health Organization (WHO), COVID-19 vaccines are safe and they prevent hospitalization and death from the infection.

Countries in the EU, US and Canada are the leaders in nationwide vaccination. As of June 26, 2021, in the US alone, an average of 1.8 million vaccines are administered per day and more than 46% of the population have already been completely vaccinated.

USA Vaccinations June 2021 (source: Google)

In the UK, more than 48% of the adult population have been fully vaccinated, and more than 66% have had the first dose.

UK Vaccinations June 2021 (source: Google)

In Canada, 67% of the population have been partially vaccinated, with more than 25% of the total population fully vaccinated.

Canada Vaccinations June 2021 (source: Google)

These countries have also looked into a way for people to maximize the use of their supposed immunity and show proof of their vaccination and health “background.” The purpose of which is to bring back businesses, leisure and international travel – basically bring back normality into the world and awaken the worldwide economy. Hence, the idea of having a COVID Passport.

What is a COVID Passport?

The idea for a vaccine passport is not new. There are already some countries which require passes for Yellow Fever immunity before entry. At the very least, a “vaccine passport” is a piece of paper or (a digital) certification that shows a person’s vaccination record and proves that this person will not contract or spread disease. The COVID Vaccine Passport will essentially do the same thing – to show proof that the person is vaccinated and immune to COVID-19. It also shows past history with the disease, including how long since a person has recovered. It may be presented during and upon arrival at a destination to bypass quarantine protocols if the country or city of arrival allows it. The major difference that the COVID Vaccine Passport will have over its predecessors is that it will also come in digital form accessible through the use of our mobile phones.

Many countries are already embracing the concept of a digital COVID Vaccine Passport and it has been given various names – COVID Passport, CoronaPass, Digital Green Certificate, TravelPas, to name a few. Let’s have a look into the details.

European Union’s EUDCC (“Green Pass”)

The European Union is known to be the champion of the COVID Vaccine Passport. As of June 2021, a total of seven countries in the EU, namely Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Croatia and Poland have already started issuing what is officially called the “EU Digital COVID-19 Certificate” or EUDCC (previously known as the European Digital Green Certificate) one month ahead of schedule and despite past opposition against the use of the EUDCC or any form of digital vaccination pass. It was viewed by some parties that the use of these vaccination passes will infringe on people’s privacy and create discrimination against those who do not choose to be vaccinated.

The EU has been long dedicated to its principle of free movement of its citizens within its 27 member states. Hence, the EUDCC has been launched with this aim in mind. The EUDCC is safe, secure and free for all and comes in both paper and digital format containing the holder’s relevant personal information, COVID vaccination status, history with the disease and recovery. It will also contain a QR code to easily scan for the said details. It is expected that travelers will be asked to present their green pass upon entry into a member state to bypass any quarantine protocols and be subject only to minimal restrictions. The EUDCC will also be used upon entry into establishments such as restaurants, bars, stadiums and the like to allow for bigger crowd gatherings. More member states are expected to follow suit once all respective national systems are finalized. Non-EU citizens who will be visiting the bloc may also be issued EUDCC provided that they show an equivalent certification that they have been vaccinated, or present a negative test result.

The launch of the green pass is a welcoming step into the recovery of EU member states which rely heavily on tourism. France, Greece, Spain, Iceland, Italy, Portugal and Malta are the top European destinations for summer and are expected to welcome an influx of vaccinated travelers with more than 56% of Europeans planning to travel in summer 2021.

The USA’s Excelsior Pass

Unlike how it is in the EU, the support for the implementation of a COVID vaccine passport in the US is not strong.  Americans are more hesitant to use some sort of COVID vaccine passport, more so a digital one. It is important to note that the US has very strict privacy laws and at the same time, a significant portion of the American population are reluctant to get vaccinated, with the anti-vaccination movement going up and down in numbers in recent years. Thus, divulging an individual’s healthcare status and history is vastly frowned-upon, and so-called “anti-vaxxers” unsurprisingly feel being discriminated against when a vaccine pass is required upon entry into establishments.

Many states have established a prohibition on the use of any form of COVID-19 vaccination pass declaring that it is both a violation of an individual’s healthcare privacy and a divisive tool for society. A whopping 15 US states completely ban the use of any vaccine passport, 33 do not require it, 1 state partially banning it but allows private establishments to decide upon themselves, and only a measly 2 out of 51 states have implemented the use of a COVID vaccine passport.

Amidst all the controversy surrounding the use of a COVID vaccine passport however, the first US vaccine passport called the “Excelsior Pass” is now being used in New York. It is essentially a QR code which people present with their mobile phones upon entering establishments. When scanned, it shows a person’s relevant information and vaccination status.

Although the employment of the Excelsior Pass is still rather slow due also to the fact that most establishments still do not require it, a few like the Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden have already begun its use. Alternatively, vaccination cards are also being accepted in place of the digital version. It is unlikely that a COVID vaccine passport or any digital health certificate will have a wider acceptance and implementation anytime soon in the US.

COVID Vaccine Passport in Asia

Although slow in putting into practice, Asian countries are very receptive to the idea of using some form of COVID vaccine passport/certificate/card. China, South Korea, Singapore and Japan are just some of the Asian countries which have already accepted using “digital health certificates” with Thailand recently joining the ranks.

One of the first to implement the use of a digital COVID-19 vaccine passport is China where the virus was first registered yet is now controlled. In March, China launched a digital health certificate available through the WeChat app. The digital certificates are intended for international travel and Chinese residents may register their vaccination status through the program.

Following suit is the Japanese government which will be issuing health certificates this summer to residents who will be travelling abroad. A digital version of which is expected to be up and running by the end of the year. Singapore which is also one of the firsts to adopt the initiative has also already started accepting the use of the IATA TravelPass to accept international travelers.

However, not all Asian countries are very welcoming of the idea of having a COVID vaccine passport. India which was recently ravaged by the virus has expressed concern and opposition towards the implementation of a COVID vaccine passport during the recently held G7 summit, citing it as highly discriminatory towards developing nations which have a slower vaccination rollout and that the requirement of such pass is beneficial only to 1st world countries whose citizens have mostly been vaccinated. According to the Indian government, citizens of developing countries might have a hard time traveling and being accepted in host-nations when they are not yet vaccinated through no fault of their own.

Still, more and more Asian countries are developing their own version of the COVID-19 Passport as a nod toward the recovery of the aviation and travel industries. Vaccination rate in most Asian countries is still comparatively low because the vaccine delivery to the region and subsequent rollout is slower. Consequently, the adoption of the COVID-19 Passport initiative lags behind their western counterparts. Nevertheless, the COVID Vaccine Passport initiative is mostly met with open arms in the region.

South America’s VitalPass Paving the Way

Not much is heard about the implementation of COVID-19 vaccine passports in the South Americas. But Colombia has recently launched VitalPass, leading the way for the Latin countries to adopt the system. The Colombian version is a digital pass developed to track the vaccination status of its users based on the blockchain technology. Similar to other vaccine passports around the world, the VitalPass comes in the form of a QR code which can be scanned to show the details of the user and his vaccination status.

What's The Future Of The COVID Passport?

COVID Vaccine Passports may be called different names throughout different countries, but in essence, they are all the same and their purpose is clear – to let people travel again. As with the vaccines, the benefits of implementing the use of COVID Vaccine Passports far outweigh the cons. Therefore, they will be accepted as the new norm for international travel. We must remember though that no vaccine guarantees complete immunity to a disease, but vaccines prevent hospitalization and death.

Currently, each country uses a different COVID Vaccine Passport system. Worldwide economies may be devastated by the pandemic but the introduction of the digital COVID Vaccine Passport signals the start of safer travel and the comeback of the aviation industry, as well as local businesses picking up. Ultimately, the international community has to come up with a way to accept different passes from different countries.

All in all, the future of travel looks bright. With the recent advent of the COVID-19 vaccine, the world is looking at controlling the disease and building worldwide immunity soon, like it has done with other diseases that have plagued the human race but now almost rarely cause fatalities.

Little by little, countries all over the world are slowly relaxing their travel restrictions and are trying to encourage travelers to visit with minimal restrictions. The introduction of the COVID-19 Passport will greatly help with the speeding up of the process and will be an invaluable tool in ensuring the health and safety of both travelers and residents. It will also make traveling less of a hassle when it is accepted as a prerequisite for quarantine exceptions.

Nevertheless, unlike how it was pre-pandemic times, it is anticipated that in the meantime, most travelers will opt for domestic travel this year, both to learn the ropes of these new travel protocols and to “get a feel” of things, then slowly progress to international travel once everything has been stabilized. Still, the future of travel looks very optimistic. The year 2021 may be the year the travel industry is still slowly rising up from the muck of 2020, but let’s hope for the best by 2022. One thing is for sure though, once travel is back in full swing, it will be a back with a bang!

If you decide to go ahead with your travel plans, stay safe and use digital services where possible. Stay connected in 190+ countries with affordable eSIMs from Airalo.