China rolls out 'world first' Covid vaccine passports for cross-border travel

China has launched Covid-19 vaccination certificate, among other countries's first in the world that issue "vaccine passports" in order to re-open their economies and make global travel easier.
March 10, 2021 | 10:43
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China is among the first in the world to issue a vaccine passport.PHOTO: REUTERS

The country is among the first in the world to issue a vaccine passport that shows details of a traveller's Covid-19 inoculation, as well as nucleic acid and antibody test results.

Chinese citizens can register for the certificate on a WeChat mini programme launched on Monday (March 8), a day after Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced the initiative at his annual press conference, Straitstime reported.

The passport, available in both digital and paper formats, will help promote world economic recovery and facilitate cross-border travel, said the foreign ministry on Monday.

"The pandemic is still with us, but the world economy needs to be restarted and people-to-people exchanges resumed with no more delays," said ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.

China is ready to discuss with other countries on establishing mutually recognised mechanisms for health codes, he said.

Several countries such as Denmark and Sweden are working on developing their own health passports. In Britain, more than 200,000 people have signed a petition that could be debated in Parliament against introducing a vaccine certificate, as it could be "used to restrict the rights of people who have refused a Covid-19 vaccine".

Meanwhile, the International Air Travel Association, which has 290 airline members, is launching a travel app that will allow immigration authorities and airlines to collect and share travellers' vaccination and Covid-19 test results, according to Straitstime.

Singapore Airlines will be the first carrier to put this app to use on its Singapore to London flights from March 15, and as many as 30 other airlines will trial the app in the next two months.

China's newly launched electronic health certificate comes with an encrypted QR code for governments to access personal information.

But it is not clear how useful this health code is currently, or which countries are in talks with Beijing to recognise its vaccine passport.

It still requires incoming travellers to complete a 14-day quarantine.

Among the proposals submitted by delegates at this year's on-going parliament sitting are several calling for a vaccine passport that could help restore travel and relax quarantine rules.

On the vaccine development front, China has approved 17 vaccine candidates for clinical trials, of which seven have entered phase three trials and four have been approved for use in the country.

China's Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said the country will reach herd immunity by the middle of next year after it vaccinates as much as 80 per cent of the population.

It is aiming to inoculate 560 million people by the end of June, and another 330 million by the end of the year, state media reported.

List of EU Countries Issuing/Asking for Vaccination Certificates

With more COVID-19 vaccines getting approved, and more people being vaccinated throughout the EU Member States and the Schengen Area Associate countries, the urge to restore travel for those vaccinated has also increased.

A vaccination pass or passport is documentation proving that you have been vaccinated against Covid-19. Some versions will also allow people to show that they have tested negative for the virus, and therefore can more easily travel. The versions being worked on now by airlines, industry groups, nonprofits and technology companies will be something you can pull up on your mobile phone as an app or part of your digital wallet.

China rolls out 'world first' Covid vaccine passports for cross-border travel
A picture taken on March 3, 2021 in Paris shows a vaccine vial reading "Covid-19 vaccine" and a syringe on an European passport. Joel Saget—AFP via Getty Images

“It’s about trying to digitize a process that happens now and make it into something that allows for more harmony and ease, making it easier for people to travel between countries without having to pull out different papers for different countries and different documents at different checkpoints,” said Nick Careen, senior vice president for airport, passenger, cargo and security at I.A.T.A. Mr. Careen has been leading I.A.T.A.’s travel pass initiative.

The President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen had supported the idea of common vaccination certificates, which can be created by the EU, and issued by the Member States to every person who gets vaccinated against COVID-19.

Cyprus

Cyprus was the first EU Member State to announce its plans on the abolishment of entry requirements like testing and quarantine for those vaccinated against COVID-19.

The government plans to permit entering its territory travellers from the EU at least, who have been vaccinated against COVID-19, without any restrictions, which means that these travellers will have to show proof they have been vaccinated against COVId-19.

Czechia

The Czech Republic is also looking into the possibility of allowing restriction-free travel for vaccinated persons, though it is not planning to make the vaccine a requirement for travel.

Speaking before the Czech Chamber of Deputies, Health Minister Jan Blatný, talked about the potential ‘vaccine passport’ that at the time was being discussed among EU officials.

“It is certainly easier to go out with a card in your pocket than to have an examination performed before each border crossing,” the Minister said at the time.

The Czech government has, however, not warned of plans to start granting such documents to its citizens anytime soon.

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Photo: GettyImages

Denmark

Denmark, on the meantime, has warned that it will soon introduce COVID-19 vaccine passports for its citizens who receive the vaccine against the virus so that they can use those certificates to travel restriction-free to countries that asl for them.

While the passports were supposed to be ready by the end of January, the Danish government has now decided to offer digital vaccination passports even for those planning to travel to Denmark.

Announcing the decision Finance Minister Morten Boedskov said that in about three or four months, the digital passport would be ready for use for example, for business travel.

“It will be the extra passport that you will be able to have on your mobile phone that documents that you have been vaccinated,” Boedskov said, noting that the country may be the first in the world to introduce this form of identification for vaccinated people.

Estonia

Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas and World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus have signed an agreement which permits Estonian entrepreneurs and researchers to start working on a digital immunisation certificate and interoperability projects, back on October 5.

The agreement allows Estonia to work on creating a yellow vaccination card which will enable a reliable and transparent cross-border exchange of vaccination data.

“Our pilot project presents an extraordinary opportunity for the Estonian community to help the world in the fight against COVID-19 and to make our experience of building digital services globally,” PM Ratas said, adding that he hopes the digital immunisation certificate would open the door to wider cooperation. “

Greece

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Photo: Itv

The Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was the first EU leader to officially call on the EU institutions to work on the reintroduction of a Coronavirus vaccination certificate in order to facilitate travel between the bloc.

The PM sent a letter to the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, pointing out that the authorities in Greece were attempting to introduce a certificate for “facilitating the freedom of movement of persons who have been vaccinated against COVID-19,” and urging the Commission to push for a common EU vaccination certificate.

On January 26, Greece moved forward with its plan to ease restrictions and resume travel through vaccination certificates, after Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis agreed with his Serbian counterpart Tatjana Matic to sign a joint memorandum of understanding in the field of tourism.

The latter foresees a mutual recognition of an ‘electronic Covid-19 vaccination certificate’ for travel between the two countries.

Hungary

For a few weeks now, Hungarians who have been vaccinated or have recovered from the virus are permitted to enter restrictions-free if they can prove their immunity with a plastic card. Those holding such card in Hungary may soon enjoy additional benefits as the liberty to stay out past the national curfew of 8 pm.

Iceland

Since January 21, 2021, Iceland authorities have started granting ‘COVID-19 vaccination certificates’ to Icelandic citizens who received the second jab of the vaccine against the virus, becoming the first country in the Schengen Area to start the practice of granting these documents to persons vaccinated against COVID-19.

The country also launched an electronic solution that enables people to obtain a vaccination certificate online – heilsuvera.is.

Iceland has also decided to recognise all ‘COVID-19 vaccination certificates’ that will soon be issued by any of the EU and Schengen countries. Travellers that reach Iceland and hold a document that proves they have been vaccinated in any of these countries will be exempt from border screening procedures.

Italy

While the Italian government has not indicated of any plans regarding vaccination certificates, Italy’s National Federation of Travel and Tourism Industry has called on the Italian government to speed up the national vaccination rollout, and issue certificates to those who take the vaccine against the virus.

The Federation, among others, has reminded the government that after ten months of inactivity, the Italian tourism industry must restart by the end of spring the latest, thus urging the government to find solutions compatible, as granting and admitting vaccination certificates for travel.

Poland

Poland has also revealed plans to introduce vaccine passports, in order to permit those who have taken the COVID-19 vaccine greater freedoms than those who have not.

The document will be issued in the form of a QR code, downloadable only at the citizens’ public health system account. Another alternative printed version will be issued to those who do not have smartphones.

“The document will be the so-called passport of the vaccinated person, which will confirm that the person has been vaccinated and can use the rights to which vaccinated people are entitled,” said Anna Golawska, Poland’s Deputy Minister of Health.

While it remains unclear whether the document will be used for cross border travel, the fact that it is being called a ‘passport’ is a big indication.

Portugal

The idea of creating ta ‘vaccination certificate’, which would facilitate the travel between European countries has also been supported by Portuguese authorities.

Portugal’s Minister of the Interior Eduardo Cabrita believes that vaccination is safe enough to allow abolishing several measures at the European Union’s internal borders, asserting that the document “should act as proof of security and do away with certain requirements at borders – in particular, the requirement for PCR tests”.

Slovakia

Slovakia is among the EU countries that has shown its support towards the introduction of the COVID-19 certificate, which the Slovak government believes would allow the highest possible level of free movement in the EU while maintaining the necessary security.

“Such a certificate should, in addition to the data on the vaccination itself, also contain information on the completed tests or possible overcoming of the COVID-19 disease,” State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic Martin Klus said on January 18 during an informal videoconference of ministers and state secretaries for European affairs of European Union countries.

The same has also asserted that amid the current restrictions within the EU, such a document could relieve people of unnecessary bureaucracy.

Spain

Spain’s Tourism Minister, Reyes Maroto has also announced that the country’s government is working to create a ‘vaccination certificate’, that will have the same use as the ones that are set to be launched by some other EU countries.

Sweden

Sweden is one of the most recent countries revealing plans for a digital coronavirus passport by summer in order to identify people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

“For certificates to work internationally, they must be recognised by countries around the world,” social minister Lena Hallengren said announcing the decision while explaining that Sweden is already working actively to develop an international standard for certificates.

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