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Are Vaccine Passports the Future of Travel?

In between Grant Shapps, the UK Transport Secretary, advising the BBC 4's Today programme that "People shouldn't be booking holidays right now," there's been a lot of talk of COVID passports. Ministers have been debating the potential for an international certificate system, although a Government insider insisted there is "nervousness" about when such a system would be in the public or rolled out.

Other countries are looking at how a vaccine passport could work, which would potentially be for domestic as well as international travel.

The NHS have been testing an immunity and vaccination passport which has been developed by a British team from Mvine and iProov. With additional backing from Innovate UK, which initially funded the development of a successful working prototype, the Mvine-iProov passport will now be tested by Directors of Public Health within the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK. Mvine and iProov aim to complete two trials by 31 March 2021, giving Directors of Public Health across the country the confidence to deploy the passport at scale to benefit their local areas.

Some people feel that being forced to have a "vaccine passport" is a new scare tactic from governments; in fact, certificates for vaccines have been in place for some time. Travellers from certain countries travelling to the UK must have a certificate of a recent TB test. Many destinations already need a vaccine certificate for diseases such as yellow fever and polio. These current processes are only valid on arrival into said countries, so a small tweak would hypothetically be needed for leaving one.

IATA, the International Air Transport Association, an airline trade association representing nearly 300 airlines globally, have previously announced they are close to releasing a digital vaccine passport for travellers. Back in November the CEO of Qantas, the Australian airline, said that vaccination passports will be a "necessity." And SAGA, the over-50's holiday specialists, expects all of its passengers to have proof of a vaccination before going on a cruise or holiday.

Some groups are worried that forcing a vaccination passport on the global population will discriminate against people. There could be those who do not want a vaccine for whatever reason, or those countries that just haven't been able to get hold of the stock to vaccinate its population. With wealthier countries buying up vaccine stock before those poorer ones, that latter worry is a legitimate one.

But as always, there is a counter argument. "If we have the technology to decide who is not a risk, we should use it," a team from the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics wrote in The Lancet medical journal. It would be "unethical" to keep people isolated who have no or little risk of spreading coronavirus as they are vaccinated.

With the EU discussing a European-wide vaccination card, as reported by the Spanish paper El Pais, and the Greece/Cyprus/Israel agreement for travel between their nations a vaccine passport of some sort looks to be the future of travel. If it incorporates proof of testing negative for the virus, for those who may not or cannot get vaccinated, then it should cover all bases. And get us back to opening up the wonders of the world.

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