2020 has been a hard-hitting year in a lot of ways. As of the start of December, the toll of the Covid-19 virus has reached 1.5 million victims worldwide and 275,000 in the U.S. alone.
The impact of the virus extends beyond human lives too, as its economic ripples affected small and large businesses alike. Some of the bigger industries that were hit the hardest were the tourism and airline industries. International travel almost halted for months and airline passenger volumes in the U.S. have dropped 65% below their 2019 levels according to multiple major U.S. airlines.
Thankfully, we may end 2020 with a bit of good news – several Covid-19 vaccines are progressing better than expected. And even though we’ll still need to wait quite a bit for the vaccine, many major airlines are already working on a new digital “Covid-19 passport” that’s meant to show if a passenger is vaccinated for Covid-19 or not.
How would the Covid-19 passport work?
The idea is being worked on by multiple airlines and agencies in The International Air Transport Association (IATA). The passport is meant to include detailed information on the person, including whether or not they’ve been vaccinated, what vaccine they’ve been vaccinated with, whether they’ve been tested for Covid-19, and more.
The whole process is set to involve a collaboration between airlines, Covid-19 labs, and multiple governmental agencies. The goal is simple – allow people to resume their traveling plans safely without endangering their lives and risking the further spread of the disease.
The combination of a passport, vaccine, and extensive testing will hopefully bring the pandemic to its knees at some point in 2021.
“Testing is the first key to enable international travel without quarantine measures,” CEO of IATA Alexandre de Juniac said in a statement. “The second key is the global information infrastructure needed to securely manage, share, and verify test data matched with traveler identities in compliance with border control requirements. We are bringing this to market in the coming months to also meet the needs of the various travel bubbles and public health corridors that are starting operation.”
The passports won’t stop there, however. They’re also meant to provide additional information for the passenger such as nearby testing facilities and vaccination labs, as well as overall information about the state of the pandemic and the restrictions around it in any location the passenger may choose to fly to.
Does this mean that the vaccine is going to be mandatory?
Only if you want to fly with an airline that has incorporated the Covid-19 passport initiative into its procedure. There are no governmental restrictions for vaccinations as of yet, however, more and more airlines are speaking up about the need for the Covid-19 vaccines and digital passports both in and outside of the U.S.
One such example is the CEO of the Australian airline Qantas Alan Joyce who stated that their airline will require vaccination ahead of international travel in or out of the country.
“We are looking at changing our terms and conditions to say for international travelers that we will ask people to have a vaccination before they can get on the aircraft,” Joyce said.
Spokespeople for Korean Air and Air New Zealand have also made similar statements already and they are being joined by more and more U.S. airlines as well.
Many U.S. airlines have been lobbying for more Covid-19 relief for months with little to no response from the federal government.
“As the nation looks forward and takes on the logistical challenges of distributing a vaccine, it will be important to ensure there are sufficient certified employees and planes in service necessary for adequate capacity to complete the task,” several major airline CEOs have told congressional leaders in an open letter.
“We’re in this situation because of the lack of leadership from the United States government. Eight months into this and there’s no cohesive program,” said Peter Vlitas, senior vice president of airline relations at the Internova Travel Group. According to the group, all that’s needed for international travel to resume are strict travel protocols but after 10 whole months, no such protocols have been enacted by the U.S. government yet.
“We do not have a contact tracing national policy. If I fly to the U.K., I have to fill out a form. If I fly to Greece, I have to fill out a form. Many countries, you fill out a form. Besides the standard do you have a fever … we don’t have the simplest of things,” Vlitas added.
Is this unprecedented?
The news about these incoming “vaccine passports” seems to have angered a lot of people in the U.S. Many are protesting that this would restrict their freedom, and others are arguing that this is all a part of the “Covid conspiracy.” There are even some that associated the new concept with the mandatory vaccines for pets before traveling and complain that “they are treating us like animals”.
However, it’s worth noting that mandatory vaccines before international travel are not actually anything new. Many countries have been requiring vaccines against dangerous pandemics such as polio or yellow fever before granting access to international travelers and this has helped to restrict the spread of the diseases across the world.