New digital health pass could help lift global travel restrictions

Helen Coffey
·3-min read
CommonPass would give users a scannable QR code (Getty Images)
CommonPass would give users a scannable QR code (Getty Images)

A new digital health pass being trialled this week could revolutionise the way we travel during the coronavirus pandemic, industry experts hope.

The aim of CommonPass is to enable safer, smoother travel, allowing travellers to securely carry their Covid-19 test result in a standardised format that is instantly recognisable to border officials at the country they’re entering.

The CommonPass Framework, meanwhile, gives countries greater transparency and control when it comes to assessing the health status of arrivals.

At present, travellers’ Covid-19 PCR test results are frequently printed out, with the results often obtained from unknown or uncertified labs, and written in a foreign language that border agents can’t understand.

Launched by the World Economic Forum and The Commons Project, a Swiss non-profit foundation, the CommonPass would introduce certification and standardisation to the process.

Travellers would take a Covid-19 test at a certified lab, upload the results to their phone, and complete any other health-related questionnaires required by the country they’re going to.

CommonPass checks the traveller has met the entry requirements and then generates a QR code that can be scanned by airline staff and border agents.

The hope is that the pass can help countries be more flexible when it comes to travel restrictions during the pandemic.

“Without the ability to trust Covid-19 tests – and eventually vaccine records – across international borders, many countries will feel compelled to retain full travel bans and mandatory quarantines for as long as the pandemic persists,” said Dr Bradley Perkins, chief medical officer of The Commons Project and former chief strategy and innovation officer at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“With trusted individual health data, countries can implement more nuanced health screening requirements for entry.”

The CommonPass is currently being trialled by Cathay Pacific Airways and United Airlines on certain flights between London, New York, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Cathay Pacific will first trial the scheme with volunteers on a flight between Hong Kong International Airport and Singapore’s Changi Airport.

United Airlines will debut the trial with volunteers flying between London Heathrow and Newark Liberty International Airport.

“For some time now, Heathrow has been calling for the creation of a Common International Standard and cross-border pilots such as these could help governments across the world and the industry to unlock the benefits of testing in aviation,” said Heathrow’s process improvement director, Mark Burgess.

“We’re looking forward to reviewing the findings of these trials and using the learnings to support the recovery of an industry that provides so many jobs and economic opportunities globally.”

The plan is to then roll-out the scheme using other airlines and popular routes across Asia, Africa, the Americas, Europe and the Middle East.

The project is being implemented in collaboration with government representatives from 37 countries around the world, as well as public and private partners.

“Individual national responses will not be sufficient to address this global crisis,” said Christoph Wolff, head of mobility at the World Economic Forum.

“Bans, bubbles and quarantines may provide short term protection, but developed and developing nations alike need a long-term, flexible and risk-based approach like CommonPass.”

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