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Public supports digital health pass mandates for travel

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New research by Ipsos for the World Economic Forum has shown that over 75 percent of people worldwide think that vaccine passports or certificates, often referred to as digital health passes, should be mandatory for travel.

As countries begin to relax restrictions and outline plans for future travel allowance, governments and private companies are developing digital ID-based health and passport systems. However, the intricacies of new digital systems are still under debate; an ID4AFRICA webinar last month explored the relation between vaccination certificates and digital ID systems, including how risks could be mitigated, while privacy preserved. 78 percent of webinar attendees (industry professionals) also supported mandatory health passes for international travel.

Ipsos surveyed 21,000 people in 28 countries, and found a majority in favour of passports for travel in every country. Malaysian participants were most enthusiastic (92 percent), followed by Peru (90 percent), Argentina and Chile (88 percent). Hungary, Poland and Russia were the only countries included with support for mandatory digital health passes below 60 percent.

When asked if health passes should be used in different settings, support varied somewhat. Almost as many people support the credentials for general travel and large events (73 percent) as for international travel, two-thirds say they should be required for concert halls and stadiums, but only 55 percent want to see them required at shops, restaurants and offices.

In terms of access to the data, 84 percent globally would allow a doctor to have access, 56 percent an employer, 50 percent the country’s government, but only 40 percent would trust private companies.

A second survey conducted by Ipsos of 15,000 in 12 countries investigated how long vaccine passports should be used for; on average 32 percent said passports should be in use until the end of 2021, while 23 percent think passports should be used for the next several years.

Don’t say ‘passport’

With myriad of digital health and passport systems in the works, interoperability becomes increasingly important, says Dakota Gruener, executive director for ID2020 in an interview with MedPageToday.

The Good Health Pass is a cross-sector initiative whose members are creating a blueprint for interoperable digital health pass systems. Having already provided advice to Australia for the country’s recovery plan, the initiative has developed an outline for companies that want to contribute.

Gruener says the initiative aims to be completely equitable, covering those who do not own mobile devices. “These would be QR codes printed on a piece of paper. So again, easily pulled out of your wallet, no connectivity required, no device required. But far, far preferable than what we’re using today in the sense that you’re not disclosing unnecessary information.”

Yet even when using paper certificates, Gruener argues that individuals could still be oversharing information that a digital certificate could filter, allowing selective data sharing.

Gruener describes the concept of zero-knowledge proof whereby a venue has a criteria for entry, and the person attempting to enter using a digital health pass is answered with a simple ‘yes, criteria is met’, or ‘no, it is not.’ Thereby completely bypassing the sharing of information, which would effectively maintain the decentralization of the data.

Epidemiologist, President and CEO of the de Beaumont Foundation Dr. Brian Castrucci, however, maintains that the development of digital health passes is a political issue. “I think the term ‘vaccine passport’ kind of pushes every partisan political button for those on the conservative right. It went in a poll that we just conducted, 47 percent of Republicans oppose the idea of a vaccine passport compared to only 10 percent of Democrats.”

Castrucci highlights that vaccine equity (within the U.S.) is a key step in the process and debate around vaccine certification.

Developing regulations and legislations around the global ‘passport’ initiative remains a vital part in ensuring the system can work effectively and safely for public good.

Canada, Malaysia Airlines advance health pass plans

Canada’s Health Minister has acknowledged that the government will play a role in the issuance of certificates to prove the health status of Canadians to allow them to travel internationally, CBC reports.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu provided few details, but noted that G7 health ministers have had talks on standardizing digital health passes.

Hajdu’s comments also suggested Canada may look to adapt the ArriveCan app, which can currently be used to show a negative COVID-19 test result when travelling to the country.

Malaysia Airlines is the latest to begin testing the IATA Travel Pass, with a trial on flights to London set to last until May 27, lowyat.net reports.

The IATA Travel Pass, which is secured with face biometrics, is available now for Apple devices, and currently slated for release on Android on May 12.

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