A new digital “health passport” will be selected by a small number of passengers flying from the UK to the US for the first time next week under plans for a global framework for safe Covid air travel.
The CommonPass system, supported by the World Economic Forum (WEF), is designed to create a standard international standard for passengers to be shown to be free of coronavirus.
Critics of similar schemes, however, point to concerns about the sensitivity and specificity of trials in different countries amid fears of further monitoring of human movements.
Paul Meyer, CEO of the Commons Project, which was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation two years ago and created the digital health pass, said countries that closed borders and imposed quarantines were looking for way to “imagine reopening”; their boundaries.
“It’s hard to do that,” he told the Guardian. “It needs to assess the health of incoming travelers … Hopefully, we will soon start to see some vaccines coming to market, but it will not be just one vaccine.
“Some countries will probably say, ‘OK, I want to see the documentation that you got one of these vaccines, but not one of those vaccines.’
Pointing to the already existing requirements in many countries, notably based on the paper evidence of a yellow fever vaccination, Meyer said that similar proof – held digitally – for coronavirus may be needed to travel for in the “predicted future”.
He added: “It is about mitigating the risk. There is no perfect safe solution. It is about providing information that will help countries reduce the risk of it spreading.”
The trial will apply for passengers flying from Heathrow to Newark, US, on a United Airlines flight on Wednesday.
Tests from private testing company Prenetics will be administered by travel and medical services company Collinson at the Covid-19 testing facilities set up in Swissport. It follows a Cathay Pacific pilot on flights between Hong Kong and Singapore.
However, the test commonly used in the UK is not an infection test, experts say, as it does not distinguish between those with the virus and those who are infected and those who are no longer infected. There are many false results as a consequence.
There is also suspicion that such schemes could provide a way to better monitor people’s movements and health status, a paper published in the Lancet on Friday said. However, it added, they can facilitate safer movements and privacy concerns are not unique or unresolved.
CommonPass confirms a traveler’s compliance with U.S. border requirements after an airport test in London up to 72 hours prior to travel with the completion of a health screening questionnaire.
A QR code that can be scanned by airline staff and border officials was created after a negative test. The process of securing a refund for the flight after a positive test is not clear. CommonPass will be paid by airlines for the service.
Most who come to the UK currently have to quarantine within a fortnight, with only about 45 countries on the list of “corridor trips” without quarantine in the country.
Mark Burgess, director of process improvement at Heathrow, told the Times: “For some time now Heathrow has been calling for the creation of a common standard for international and cross-border pilots because it will help governments in worldwide and in the industry to unlock the benefits of flying testing. “
A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: “The government is working with the industry to identify and implement options to reduce the period of self-isolation by testing while protecting public health.
“We will consult closely with partners from the aviation, travel, healthcare and testing sectors as well as shared administrations to come up with measures as soon as possible to support the recovery of the travel sector.”