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A Possibility for Jump-Starting International Travel

A new “digital health passport” is being tested that could allow cross-border trips with less fear of spreading the Covid-19 virus.

A partnership between the World Economic Forum and a nonprofit trust called the Commons Project Foundation has resulted in CommonPass, a digital product that can show a traveler’s recent Covid-19 test results and other information to immigration officials so that they know the traveler meets that nation’s health standards for entry.

With backing from American Express Global Business Travel, United Airlines, Cathay Pacific Airlines, and other travel-related firms, pilot testing of CommonPass is taking place right now among volunteers who fly between London, New York, Hong Kong, and Singapore. “I am encouraged by how quickly the global travel industry has coalesced around the CommonPass framework,” said Greg O’Hara, executive chairman of American Express Global Business Travel. Further, both the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are monitoring the testing.

CommonPassCovidResults.pngCommonPass works like this: Travelers take a Covid-19 test at a certified lab (or, in the future, get a vaccination) and upload the results to the CommonPass app on their mobile phone. They must also answer any other health-related questions required by the destination country. The system provides a yes/no answer as to whether the individual meets the required entry criteria and then creates a QR code that gets scanned at flight check-in and at the border-control checkpoint in the arrival destination. At present, no country requires its own citizens to present a negative test result for re-entry, though some require a quarantine.

CommonPass allows nations’ governments to update their entry requirements regularly, depending on the severity of the pandemic. It also maintains user privacy by complying with general data protection regulations (GDPR) and not revealing any other user health information than what is necessary for travel.

“The current patchwork of policies and ever-changing border entry and health-screening requirements has made international travel incredibly complex, leaving airlines and border agencies uncertain about the validity of test results and passengers unsure of what is being asked of them,” says a statement on the CommonPass page of the World Economic Forum’s website. Christoph Wolff, head of mobility at the World Economic Forum, adds that "individual national responses will not be sufficient to address this global crisis,” said "Bans, bubbles and quarantines might provide short-term protection, but nations need a long-term, flexible, risk-based approach like CommonPass.”

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