The South African Department of Tourism is looking to introduce a vaccine passport in our country, but how would it be implemented, and what are the concerns?
Around the world, pandemic restrictions have begun to gracefully ease. This largely stems from vaccine rollouts, which have afforded certain countries (predominantly in the Global North) to issue vaccine passports or certificates.
In terms of swift action in this regard, a spotlight shines on the European Union with their digital green (as it was first dubbed), or Digital COVID Certificate. This is a point of reference for what South Africa might draw inspiration from.
This is how it works in the EU
The EU Digital COVID Certificate (EUDCC) is available to all 27 members of the EU, including Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein, as the BBC informs. It’s also available to non-EU nationals living in other member states and has the right to travel to other member states. This doesn’t apply to the Brits, as they are no longer members of the EU.
The EUDCC allows Europeans to travel easily between the member states, as well as some non-EU countries.
As euronews writes, “it consists of information about an individual’s vaccination status, test results or recovery status.”
The pass is presented, in the form of a scannable QR code, and is the golden ticket for travel.
In terms of other countries, the US has introduced digital health records, also stored on mobile phones as BusinessInsider expresses, and China launched its International Travel Health Certificate back in March already.
What we can see from other forms of the initiative are two consistencies: Countries that have had smoother vaccination rollouts, and digitalisation to connect health records to mobility.
What is South African planning?
The current talks by the Department of Tourism indicate a desire for a similar COVID-19 passport, but there are a few things to consider.
- We don’t have enough vaccinated people
As BusinessTech writes “as countries like South Africa lag on their vaccine roll-out, they risk being left behind as they cannot introduce similar systems.”
- Discrimination could take place
“When we reopen, and when everyone is starting to travel, it should not be discriminatory. And that principle has been reiterated time and time again,” Tourism director-general Nkhumeleni Victor Tharage said.
- It could extend beyond what we traditionally think of travel, and be used as the gateway to events and restaurants.
Tharage expressed this particular concern in a parliament briefing that took place on Tuesday.
“At the end of the day, it’s about being able to get the necessary confidence from consumers, tourists and trade. If we don’t do that, then there will be a negative impact on our recovery,” Tharage adds.
- Digitalisation is critical
Director general of International Air Transport Association (IATA), Willie Walsh, noted that a digital solution is critical, particularly as volumes of passenger movements increase, as cited by BusinessTech.
“We did some research at IATA which predicted that if we had to continue using manual paper processes you would get very significant waiting times at airports.”
Tharage also expressed that another key issue is a lack of standardisation around vaccine passports across the globe.
“If South Africa introduces (a passport), and there is access to information from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) that confirms that a person has been vaccinated, the question is if that person arrives Lagos (Nigeria), what resources will they use to verify this information that is stored on a database in South Africa?”
“It would be ideal in a global context if we had a common standard that could be applied [but] that is highly unlikely. So, we have a digital solution but different standards of the digital solution,” Walsh expressed. IATA’s Travel Pass is currently being trialled by at least 50 international airlines.
A mapping tool developed by travel website, Skyscanner shows that as of August 18, South Africa has 84 ‘major restrictions’ from other countries in place.
These countries have suspended travel, may be closed to entry, or may only be possible if you are a citizen or meet strict entrance requirements.
“By comparison, there are currently 28 moderate restrictions on South Africa, where travel is possible, but only if travellers meet certain entry requirements, including taking Covid-19 tests,” notes BusinessTech.
Considering the points of concern, as citizens, we should consider for ourselves whether this is a practical initiative right now given the current place we are at in the pandemic.
Picture: Pinterest/ Jay