Vaccine passports on trial by Air New Zealand could enable air travel

Hopes are rising that some air travel in and out of Australia could be restored within months, as the first coronavirus vaccinations are administered across the country.

University of South Australia epidemiologist Adrian Esterman told The Age he expected vaccine passports would enable travel.

“If you’ve got a vaccine passport and you’re coming from a low-risk country, then you’ll probably be deemed absolutely safe and there’ll be no restriction whatsoever,” Professor Esterman said.

“But if you’re coming from a high-risk country, which has got these new (COVID-19) variants … even though you’ve been vaccinated, there might be some need to isolate for a few days.”

In April, Air New Zealand intends to ask passengers to use a digital health pass on flights to Australia, effectively providing a trial run of a ‘vaccine passport’ system that might operate post-pandemic.

The federal government plans to complete the vaccination rollout to all adult Australians who wish to have the jab by October. But NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told ABC radio her state could be vaccinated against COVID-19 sooner.

“We’re hopeful that if some of the supplies that we hadn’t anticipated are coming in sooner than expected, it could be within months that large cohorts of the public are invited to have the vaccine.”

Vaccination of hotel quarantine workers began on Monday, and at Melbourne Airport an unused departure lounge was converted into a vaccination clinic serving hundreds of airline flight crew, customs workers, cargo handlers and other airport workers.

Read more: Top four COVID travel trends

ABC News reports that the Air New Zealand trial of the Travel Pass app, developed by the International Air Transport Association, will allow travellers to create a ‘digital health wallet’ linked to their passport.

“Once they have been tested or vaccinated, the lab can securely send that information to the app, which is then cross-checked against the travel requirements for the country they hoped to visit.”

Air New Zealand chief digital officer Jennifer Sepull described the app as a “digital health certificate that can be easily and securely shared with airlines”.

Read more: Booking travel post-COVID

“Reassuring customers that travel is, in fact, safe is one of our priorities. By using the app, customers can have confidence that everyone onboard meets the same government health requirements they do,” she told ABC News.

“By having a place to store all your health credentials digitally in one place, it will not only speed up the check-in process but unlock the potential for contactless travel.”

The Age reports that travel industry leaders expect COVID-19 immunisation will become mandatory for international flights. In November, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said it would be a requirement to fly on his airline. Incoming travellers to Australia currently must prove they tested negative to COVID-19 within 72 hours of their departure.

Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways and British Airways plan to use the IATA travel pass. All people travelling to Australia from overseas, apart from Kiwis, currently face a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Read more: Getting ready to travel post-COVID

Burnet Institute director Brendan Crabb says travel bubbles between other low-risk “green” countries might “be quite common in the second half of the year”.

It is expected restrictions will remain if vaccines do not stop transmission of the disease as much as expected or if new, more resistant variants emerge.

Ben Cowie, senior medical adviser for the COVID-19 vaccination program, is hailing the success of vaccination efforts in Israel where more than 49 per cent of people have received at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Israel’s health ministry believes the risk of illness from the virus had dropped 95.8 per cent among people who have had two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

“So, the early evidence (from Israel) … is firstly that the actual rates of infection in those vaccinated are going down,” Professor Cowie said.

“It protects against infection, it certainly protects against serious infection, and furthermore we’re seeing the first evidence that even among those infected, it reduces its ability to spread to others.”

Vaccinated Israelis can use a government app known as “green badge”, which allows them access to gyms, movie theatres and swimming pools, which non-vaccinated citizens cannot enter.

When do you expect to travel overseas again? Do you think the vaccination passport system will work?

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Written by Will Brodie

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