The first trials of a digital health pass that certifies airline passengers are Covid-free will begin this week in a push to reopen international travel fully after nearly nine months of disruption.
The World Economic Forum-backed CommonPass project aims to create the first globally recognised proof that a passenger has tested negative for the virus before a flight, using a digital certificate downloaded to a mobile phone.
CommonPass will not conduct tests. Instead it aims to establish standard certifications for Covid-19 test results and, eventually, proof that a passenger has been vaccinated against the virus.
Steve Morrissey, a regulatory and policy executive at United Airlines, which is part of the pilot scheme, said the trials were “critical” to developing an alternative to the quarantine requirements and travel restrictions currently in force in many countries.
United and Cathay Pacific Airways are set to begin testing the digital health pass on routes linking travel hubs including London, New York, Hong Kong and Singapore on Thursday.
The aviation industry is hopeful that passenger testing can restart international travel but many governments, including the UK’s, have stuck to blunt measures such as self-isolation requirements for incoming passengers.
UK cabinet ministers, for example, have promised an announcement on airport testing, although industry executives expect any measures would only shorten the quarantine period.
Travellers are presenting their test results on pieces of paper — or photos of paper — with no standard format
There is currently no international co-ordination of Covid-19 testing at airports or universal quarantine requirements, and the airline industry has long-been pushing for a joined-up international approach.
Etihad’s chief executive, Tony Douglas, told the Financial Times last month that health visas would be preferable to the so-called air corridors employed by some countries, including the UK, which he dismissed as a “marketing exercise”.
CommonPass, which has been developed by the World Economic Forum and Swiss not-for-profit the Commons Project Foundation, was inspired by the cross-border co-operation between members of the East African Community. The six countries — including Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda — worked together to share test results to help shift miles of backed-up trucks along their borders.
“Individual national responses will not be sufficient to address this global crisis,” said Christoph Wolff, the World Economic Forum’s head of mobility.
“Bans, bubbles and quarantines may provide short-term protection but developed and developing nations alike need a long-term, flexible, and risk-based approach,” he said.
The pass’s creators say it will also help deal with the problem of forged or copied test results.
“As it stands, travellers are presenting their test results on pieces of paper — or photos of paper — with no standard format, often in a language foreign to those inspecting them,” said Paul Meyer, chief executive of the Commons Project.
This month’s trials will be monitored by government agencies, including US border officials and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the volunteers will still have to abide by national immigration requirements, including self-isolation.
Martin S. Cetron, a director at the CDC, said the agency was “eager to learn” from the pilot.
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