With inoculation programmes underway across the globe, the possibility of a vaccine passport has moved from debate to reality. Israel and Bahrain became the first countries in the world to implement a digital health certificate for the purpose of travel. Now China, the world’s second-largest economy, has launched a similar initiative for its 1.3 billion citizens.
The so-called ‘virus passport’ is available in both digital form and as a hard certificate and will feature the traveller’s vaccination status and recent virus test results. It will also feature a QR code allowing authorities to gain access to a traveller’s medical information. The programme aims to enable Chinese citizens to travel internationally, boost tourism and promote economic growth.
Macau and Hong Kong citizens are expected to benefit from the passport first, while Beijing continues to work towards global recognition of the certificate.
China joins a growing list of countries and governing bodies that are expected to launch a similar vaccine passport in the coming months. This includes the European Union, which is expected to submit a proposal in March on a COVID-19 travel document for its 27-member states permitting citizens to cross between borders.
While a travel document for those who have been vaccinated could be the answer to jump-starting the tourism industry, there are a few glaring ethical concerns amongst experts.
According to Dr Michael Ryan, a World Health Organisation official, a vaccine passport could lead to greater inequality across the globe due to lack of access.
“Quite simply, vaccination is just not available enough around the world and is not available certainly on an equitable basis,” he said during a COVID-19 press conference.
Aside from the ethical considerations, there have been discussions on how susceptible these travel programmes are to cyber fraud. Experts believe that this could create a market for forged documents facilitating a means for criminal activity.
Despite the controversies, it is becoming clear that the vaccine passport will be the ultimate travel document for 2021 and potentially the beginning of mass travel as we once knew it.