Discussions around adopting a common global digital health pass, or “passport” in ICAO’s parlance, to facilitate international travel will be central to deliberations when stakeholders in the travel industry gather in Montreal, Canada, in a few months, at a summit organized by the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO).
Talks about realizing a unique global digital health passport for travel has been very much on the agenda since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, although there is yet to be global consensus on how this should play out.
The upcoming meeting in Canada, billed for September, will serve as a platform where proposals from different stakeholders will be made on how the plan can be materialized as part of efforts to accelerate recovery of the travel industry, reports TTG Asia.
The report quotes the director general of Airports Council International (ACI) Asia Pacific, Stefano Baronci, as saying during a recent summit of the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in the Maldives that although some countries are still lukewarm about the common digital health passport idea, “there is general agreement among many others.”
TTG Asia also cites the UNWTO secretary general Zurab Pololikashvilli as saying his organization is also concerned about the single digital health passport and has been involved in discussions in that regard.
Without any such common digital health documents in use now, different countries are using different applications and systems to manage traveler health information. Taking this one step further, some countries such as the U.S. do not have a national system or credential. The article also cites the example of Japan where clearance for passengers at airports is carried out through facial recognition systems, a technology for which there had been apprehension over the safety and privacy of data collected.
In the case of the Maldives, there is a streamlined method where travelers submit their travel information via an app, well ahead of time, enabling them to eventually go through airport checks quickly upon arrival.
Some airlines have also rolled out their own digital health passes.
Baronci stresses importance of seamless travel
Speaking on the same subject in an interview with the Gulf Times, Stefano Baronci underscores the importance of the common digital health passport, saying his organization has engaged in talks with different stakeholders on the matter.
This, he says, will make international travel much easier, which is vital for ongoing efforts to revive the global travel industry which has been severely battered by the pandemic.
“A majority of countries in our region have abolished pandemic-related travel curbs which will further stimulate the recovery of industry. Testing, quarantine and limitations on foreign arrivals and limitations on tourism, discourage travel and hinder the economic recovery. Therefore, it is crucial that border restrictions are eased to enable seamless movement of people,” Baronci tells the Gulf Times.
The official also talks about the Airport Health Accreditation program launched in 2020 by ACI with the goal of helping airlines assess the health measures they put in place when the pandemic broke out, and if such measures meet requirements of the ICAO Council Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART).
“We focused on ensuring that airport operations and public health measures were implemented in accordance with ICAO CART recommendations… Our team is working closely with ICAO, civil aviation and public health authorities, and other industry stakeholders to facilitate a sustainable recovery in a harmonizing manner,” adds Baronci.
Baronci also holds that, apart from investments in touchless technologies for airports to facilitate passenger management processes, digitization and the use of biometrics can also significantly improve airport security and expedite passenger checks. This, he believes, can go a long way in enhancing efficiency especially during peak hours as well as lowering operational cost.