Digital Health Passports Allow Safe Travels, But It Comes With Challenges

Now that COVID-19 vaccines are regularly distributed in Singapore and many parts of the world, and health tests become a regular feature of post-pandemic travel, attention is turning to how travelers can prove that ‘they are unharmed or protected. against – the deadly virus.

Additionally, the recent spate of COVID-19 cases in Singapore are mostly imported cases rather than locally transmitted infections.

An emerging trend is that of “ digital health passports, ” which document the health status of travelers, recording both vaccination and COVID-19 test results.

In China, many companies have rolled out their versions of vaccine passports, with popular ridesharing, chatting, and payment apps already displaying information about vaccine status.

This is also the case in Singapore. Many startups have joined the race to develop such “ passports ”, which mainly take the form of a mobile application.

As these health records are stored digitally, this solves the problem of lost or damaged physical medical records. However, these “passports” would have to be recognized by individual governments to allow international travel.

The race for the digital health passport at S’pore

Several international companies and organizations currently offer a variety of technological solutions for documenting and verifying the health status of travelers.

Here are some of the different “ passport ” solutions currently being tested in Singapore:

1. IATA travel card

iata travel pass
How modules combine as an integrated service / Image credit: IATA

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has designed a digital health pass called Travel Pass.

The mobile application contains information required by many governments. The pass allows approved laboratories and test centers to securely share test and vaccination certificates with passengers.

Passengers can then create a digital passport and share test or vaccination certificates with airlines and authorities to facilitate travel. Indeed, the Travel Pass contains the information making it possible to check whether a passenger is eligible to undertake his trip.

Singapore Airlines launched the first tests of the IATA Travel Pass framework in December 2020 on flights from Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur to Singapore.

It will run another two-week trial of the app between March 15 and 28 for customers traveling from Singapore to London.

2. Affinidi

affinidi digital health passport
QR verification is developed by Affinidi / Image credit: Affinidi

Affinidi, founded by Temasek, is working with government agencies and private sector partners on testing for inbound travelers.

He built a web application called Universal Verifier, which acts as a kind of single terminal that can read everything.

It will work with all the different standard providers to be able to read QR codes and display the result in the same way to the immigration officer. This saves a lot of time because the immigration officer does not have to learn different types of standards.

Affinidi currently has eight digital health passport providers on board, including Accredify and AOKpass. Others include Knowledge Catalyst, NextID, Collinson, and 3DCerts.

Affinidi said more details of the Singapore trials would be revealed soon. He has also aroused the interest of other countries and urges them to see how he can extend the solution.

3. SGInnovate and Accredify

accredit the digital health passport
Digital Health Passport / Image Credit: Accredify

SGInnovate has partnered with Accredify, a local technology provider with a proven track record in creating blockchain-based digital certificates, to develop the Digital Health Passport (DHP).

DHP is the first blockchain-powered solution to issue secure and tamper-proof digital COVID-19 medical records at scale.

The platform was developed with the support of the National Research Foundation (NRF) and first deployed by the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to better manage the worker pandemic migrants in Singapore.

DHP Expands Application to Strengthen Travel Security and Border Verification Based on National Health Certificate Framework Co-developed by DHP Team and Government Technology Agency (GovTech), MOH and Others in Singapore.

4. ICC AOKpass

Singapore Immigration AOKpass ICC Pilot Test
Singapore Immigration AOKpass ICC Pilot Test / Image Credit: Affinidi

ICC AOKpass is a mobile application launched by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), International SOS, SGS Group and co-developed with the start-up AOKpass based in Singapore.

Once individuals have medical results, they can enter the information into the app to create a pass.

A unique code is generated and shown to the individual and their doctor to verify the information. They can then show the QR code for verification at airports.

On December 21 of last year, a Singapore citizen returning from Japan successfully used the ICC AOK pass to digitally authenticate negative COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test results, for verification of the arrival at the immigration counters at Changi Airport.

Following the success of the pilot program, passengers traveling to Singapore from Indonesia and Malaysia can now use the pass to show their Covid-19 test results on dedicated immigration lanes at Changi Airport.

International SOS says this will be rolled out to other international travelers “in the coming months.”

It’s more than privacy and data issues

As travel resumption plans have accelerated since the vaccine rolled out, it is clear that we would need digital medical passports to resume travel.

The government can say that you don’t need to have one, but the implications like extensive testing and paying for quarantines won’t make the trip worthwhile.

While digital medical passports are indeed the fastest and most efficient way to resume international travel, concerns remain about security and personal data.

As with any app that stores medical records, there will be issues of privacy and fraud.

sginnovate accredit digital health passport
Image Credit: SGInnovate / Accredify

Accredify, for its part, ensures that the appeal of digital accreditation systems – like its own, which is blockchain-based – is that they are tamper-proof and therefore cannot be tampered with.

He added that medical documents stored privately and securely on his app are only accessible to users, allowing them to decide who to share their medical records with and when.

Beyond confidentiality and data issues, if the passport becomes a kind of “passport to society”, there will inevitably be political considerations.

Anti-vaxxers or people reluctant to vaccinate may think that the combination of the vaccine and the passport – if it is mandatory – is an intrusion on their personal freedoms.

Although the current vaccine harvest is very efficient, we do not yet know if they are a barrier to transmission. Leaving even a slight risk that a passport holder will transmit the disease may not be a good idea as the virus mutates quickly.

These passports can invoke a false sense of security and, therefore, the issuance of such passports may promote risky behavior that prolongs the pandemic.

Support the safe reopening of borders

digital health passport travel
Image Credit: Mobi Health News

IATA recently announced that we may be able to resume personal or leisure travel in the second half of 2021.

This is exciting news for desperate travelers, and we simply cannot deny that digital medical passports will support the safe reopening of borders.

However, the success of digital health passports will depend on the effectiveness of the vaccines. Currently, little is known about whether vaccines prevent the spread of Covid-19, although research is ongoing.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged caution with health passes, telling authorities and tour operators not to introduce proof of vaccination as a condition for international travel.

WHO said the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing transmission was not yet clear and the global vaccine supply was limited.

Coordinating the various existing and pending vaccine passports in the market and matching user certifications with verified and approved medical facilities will prove to be a major challenge.

For vaccine passports to be a practical tool internationally, it will require a standardized platform that transcends all borders, like the current passport system.

Ultimately, the resumption of international travel will depend as much on the willingness of countries to reopen as on the travel verification technology in place.

Featured Image Credit: Affinidi

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Jothi Venkat

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