What is the COVID-19 Passport?

Let’s unravel the key reasonings FOR and AGAINST the passport system.

Surface

COVID-19 Passport, also known as proof of vaccination record. The passport offers validation on one’s immunization to COVID-19 so that authorities or enterprises can ensure minimal transmission risk within a certain group of people who are getting together.

Source: CommonPass App

For example, if you would like to travel from Canada to Hong Kong, you need to log your vaccination record or COVID-testing result into an application like CommonPass before departure. At the gate, the flight attendant will scan your QR code to verify your record with the issuer; after you get approved, you can hop on the flight with the expectation that everyone on the plane is also safe from COVID-19.

Besides CommonPass, numerous organizations ranging from startups to non-profit to big tech such as Onfido, Linux Foundation, Ticketmaster, Apple, etc., are developing personal identification tools that provide proof of vaccinations to protect societal safety and incentivize greater vaccination penetration among the population.

Source: COVID-19 Credentials Initiative Website

Operational Hurdles

In the back-end, the COVID-19 Passport requires a sophisticated technological infrastructure to make it possible. The linkage between the three stakeholders (Holder, Verifier and Issuer) can be difficult to standardize among the whole population at an area, nearly impossible at an international level.

  • How to qualify as an issuer? What level of audits are conducted to ensure safety and accuracy?
  • How does the application display different vaccine variants? What qualifies as a good vaccine, what doesn’t?
  • How to check if the Issuer wrongfully inputs the vaccination record?
  • Do verifiers have the flexibility to selectively trust certain issuers instead of all the issuers under the platform?
  • What role does the government or public health agency (WHO) takes place in the process? Who pays the bill for the investments?
  • What level of information is needed to verifier one’s health record?
  • Should the technology be commercialized? Aka, Will all the verifiers are government authorities or private business owners?
  • Should companies incentivize people by using monetary awards/government publicity to increase the penetration rate?
  • Should each country have their own Passport ecosystem, or should there be one particular organization that manages all cross-border proofs?

WHO’s Perspective

According to WHO’s Interim report as of February 5, 2021

WHO advises that national authorities should not introduce requirements of proof of COVID-19 vaccination for international travel as a condition for departure or entry, given that there are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission. In addition, considering that there is limited availability of vaccines, preferential vaccination of travellers could result in inadequate supplies of vaccines for priority populations. WHO also recommends that people who are vaccinated should not be exempt from complying with other travel risk-reduction measures.

The last point of the report speaks highly of WHO’s stance on COVID-19 Passport, implicitly stating their views on the Passport as neutral, leaning towards positive.

Case Studies

Isreal — Green Pass
The Green Pass was released on February 21 to help the country emerge from a month-long lockdown. The app displays proofs of vaccination and testing record, as well as recovery history from Covid-19. The Israeli government officials have communicated with businesses like gyms, restaurants, music venues, even property managers to enforce Green Pass verification processes to ensure the population's safety.

However, it is still too early to conclude its effectiveness. Two major questions were raised upon (1) Its closed-source development program allowed no one to vet whether any securities breaches had happened. (2) It is subtle, entrenching the inequality gap between the wealthy and the poor, further dividing the nation apart.

Quebec — Digital Proofs

The Quebec provincial government rolled out their digital proof of vaccination technology on May 13. In the form of the Quick Response (QR) code, the government aims to accelerate economic re-opening activities with the hope to resume normal consumer activities before the end of the summer.

The government is particularly motivated by the idea because of the economic pressure they face from the closure of SMEs. Quebec represented 2.1% of Canada’s population but accounted for 21% of small businesses. According to Quebec Gazette, Quebec is expected to record a $15-billion deficit this year, followed by deficits of $8 billion in 2022 and $7 billion in 2023. Therefore it makes sense for Quebec’s government to take the risk and experiment with the COVID-19 Passport before everyone else.

Personal Thoughts

Apart from the feasibility and logistical concerns. The COVID-19 Passport has raised discussions about national competitions and privacy control to the issue, which had made an international rollout to be much less feasible.

I believe COVID-Passport (Up to 1 Country) is likely to occur everywhere.

The aggregate information populated from the COVID-Passport technology provides significant information for public authorities to make “back-to-normal” transition decisions and alleviates public fear of transmission. It is likely to take place starting from a provincial level and further consolidate as operations become mature.

However, it should take place when the vaccine penetration is high enough to ensure minority and underprivileged populations are receiving proper treatment and access to vaccinations.

I believe cross-border passports are possible but not universal.

For countries that share strong trade relationships with similar political stances on international development (e.g. European Union, Southeast Asia, Africa). It is feasible and more efficient to roll out a standardized process for vaccine verifications with as minimal government intervention as possible. They shall be publicly funded and monitored by a third-party agency.

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