Vietnam Airlines, the flag carrier of Vietnam and one of Southeast Asia’s major carriers, is now working with domestic and international agencies to implement the use of a COVID-19 “vaccine passport”, as confirmed by Dang Anh Tuan, head of the airline’s Communications and Branding Department.
Representatives from the airline have held intensive talks with partners from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) on the digital health passport project, VNA reports.
Vietnam Airlines’ move comes after Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc ordered relevant agencies to map out plans for possible implementation of vaccine passports in the country, as Vietnam takes measures to hasten economic and tourism recovery.
With the coronavirus posing more serious (and still largely unknown) threats, the use of a vaccine passport will require more stringent policies than the ones previously used for cholera and yellow fever.
If Vietnam Airlines green lights the use of a digital travel pass, it will join 17 other airlines, including Singapore Airlines which was the first to successfully trial the IATA travel pass on an international flight from Singapore to London’s Heathrow Airport on March 17.
“The successful implementation of IATA Travel Pass in this trial with Singapore Airlines passengers demonstrates that technology can securely, conveniently and efficiently help travelers and governments to manage travel health credentials. The significance of this to re-starting international aviation cannot be overstated,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.
IATA, Singapore Airlines and all other carriers that are trialing the travel pass believe that digital health credential would be essential when borders reopen and travel restrictions get progressively lifted.
The main purpose of the travel pass, according to IATA, is to help governments get accurate health information on passengers, thus, the possibility of waiving mandatory weeks-long quarantine.
The travel pass contains information for passengers on what tests, vaccines and other measures each country requires prior to travel, details on where they can get tested and giving them the ability to share their tests and vaccination results in a verifiable, safe and privacy-protecting manner.
By consolidating the verification of health credentials into a single platform, users can expect a faster and more seamless check-in process. Participants will have full control over how their personal information is shared, as the data is stored locally in the mobile phone and not in any central database.
IT infrastructure needed for vaccine passports
For the travel pass to work, a system of information flow infrastructure is needed, says IATA.
- Governments with the means to verify the authenticity of tests and the identity of those presenting the test certificates.
- Airlines with the ability to provide accurate information to their passengers on test requirements and verify that a passenger meets the requirements for travel.
- Laboratories with the means to issue certificates to passengers that will be recognized by governments, and
- Travellers with accurate information on test requirements, where they can get tested or vaccinated, and the means to securely convey test information to airlines and border authorities
In Vietnam, related agencies and telecom providers said information technology infrastructure for COVID-19 passports or the digital travel pass have already been prepared and will be ready for use next month, should the government decide to let foreigners in.
The National Steering Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control said companies relevant to this project should offer optimum services for the project to succeed, considering the complicated and rapidly changing situations around the world.
A report from Vietnam Express detailed the IT infrastructure needed to be set up: software and website system to confirm information of people entering the nation, like conditions of entry permit, types of vaccine, nationalities of the citizens and other related information that needs to be declared.
For locals, the vaccination information will be integrated into their electronic health record system.
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Governments have the last say
The use of a digital travel pass (or even a printed vaccine certificate) does not guarantee a quarantine- or restrictions-free travel for its holders.
It is the government of a country — not airlines nor IATA — that make the rules on entry requirements and movement controls. It is also the governments that will decide if vaccinations will be mandatory upon entry, or if tests need to be carried out. The IATA travel pass can only help with storing travelers’ health data, which they can present when boarding a plane and reaching the country of destination.
Since Vietnam has not issued any formal announcement on exempting vaccinated travelers from quarantine, all arrivals in the country still need to undergo a 14-day quarantine and should test negative for the virus at least twice before they’d be allowed to travel across Vietnam’s regions.
Currently, Vietnam is only allowing entry to foreign experts, returning Vietnamese nationals and those traveling for official or diplomatic purposes. The government last year green-lighted the resumption of commercial flights to Asian destinations considered low-risk: mainland China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. However, Vietnamese carriers are still not allowed to operate inbound flights for tourists.