Vietnam Airlines officially pilots digital health passport

The expectation of a world which is easier to move around is gradually becoming a reality as the US and Europe have basically achieved mass vaccination and are preparing to fully reopen their economies as soon as this summer.

Passengers are tested for COVID-19 at Tan Son Nhat airport in early May. (Photo: Huu Khoa/vnexpress)
Passengers are tested for COVID-19 at Tan Son Nhat airport in early May. (Photo: Huu Khoa/vnexpress)

In Vietnam, the government has had a flexible response to implementing the “dual goals” switching from the defensive to offensive and from “zoning and stamping out the epidemic” as the main method to strengthening the vaccine to creating community immunity. In that context, national flag carrier (Vietnam Airlines) has officially piloted digital Covid-19 health passport, considered a necessary preparation for the upcoming recovery period.

“Key” to opening the border

Vietnam Airlines has said it will coordinate with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to test the digital Covid-19 health passport known as the IATA Travel Pass this June. This can be considered the "key" to open ingthe border, facilitating passengers in their travelling between countries, and meeting all the entry requirements of the authorities and the government at each destination. During the process, several passengers will be selected to download the free mobile app IATA Travel Pass, create personal profiles with their photos and passport information, and fill in their flight details in order to be updated on the health requirements of their destination. Prior to departure, passengers have to register and have a Covid-19 test or vaccination from government-designated facilities that are registered with IATA. After that, they must share their results and confirm their flight status with the airline. The app will help both airlines and authorities check the validity of certificates and easily identify passengers. All information will be secure and only shared when permitted by the passenger. The IATA Travel Pass integrates some leading digital solutions such as contactless travel, biometric data, and electronic health certificates such as COVID-19 test results and vaccination certificates. It is convenient and effective as it will replace the current paper procedures.

This is a secure application, ensuring consistent information exchange between parties including the Government, testing facilities, airlines and passengers. The IATA Travel Pass is a global app that determines each country's requirements for passengers amid the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring reliable test results as well as a secure and consistent flow of information among the parties. The app can be operated on mobile phones with many features and data such as the epidemiological requirements in the countries, lists of qualified laboratories and a storage of COVID-19 test results and vaccination certifications of the passengers. The app also helps bring this information to governments and airlines to facilitate their inspection and management measures. General Director of Vietnam Airlines Le Hong Ha said that as the pioneer of the IATA Travel Pass in Vietnam, Vietnam Airlines will help realise great step forward for passengers. “We believe that Vietnam Airlines' ability to accelerate digital transformation along with IATA's extensive expertise in the aviation sector will bring certain successes following its launch. An electronic health passport solution such as the IATA Travel Pass should be widely authorised and recognised by governments, contributing to quickly restoring routine international passenger transport. The most important goal is to restore passengers’ confidence and ensure a safe and seamless travel experience for everyone”, said Ha. Nick Careen, Senior Vice President for Airport, Passenger, Cargo and Security shared: “The IATA Travel Pass is a solution to facilitate international travel amidst the pandemic. It holds the key to the re-launch of the travel and tourism sector, an important contributor to the economy.”. One issue of concern when deploying the vaccine passport in general and the IATA Travel Pass in particular is how to collect accurate information about the health status of passengers while the test request is complex and there are many different types of tests. Timatic – one component of the IATA Travel Pass - allows tracking of all Government regulations as well as the list of all designated facilities that issue test certificates. Basically, the IATA Travel Pass keeps track of all passenger test and vaccination certificates issued by the above facilities and matches the conditions in the Timatic database.

Essential actions

Developments in the global fight against COVID-19 have seen changes. In 2020, the developed countries were more affected than developing countries, but the opposite has happened in 2021. The epidemic has shifted to developing countries. Countries at the forefront of technology and large-scale vaccination such as the US, UK, and EU, are gradually recovering and returning to normal. As an export-oriented economy, this is a great opportunity for Vietnam's economic recovery.

In order to not to miss the opportunity, Vietnam needs to accelerate its vaccination process to create community immunity. From the perspective of the economic sector and businesses, it is also necessary to take action to prepare. The digital Covid-19 health passport is one of the most anticipated measures to help Vietnam quickly and safely open its border, supporting the tourism and aviation industries after a year of heavy losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The preparation process for the application of the digital health passport was launched by Vietnam Airlines in cooperation with IATA in February. Dr. Nguyen Dinh Cung, former director of the Central Institute for Economic Management, said that Vietnam has no legal regulations related to the deployment of vaccine passports. This is an issue that requires agreement at government level between Vietnam and other countries in order to apply it to international visitors entering and leaving Vietnam. In April, the Government assigned the Ministry of Health to urgently complete the plan and study the implementation of the vaccine passport mechanism for each subject and each country as well make a specific plan to create the most favourable conditions for the completion of vaccine production trials in the country. According to the directions of the Government, Vietnam will implement the vaccine passport in the spirit of ensuring safety.

The tourism sector has also rushed to study a pilot plan to welcome international visitors to Vietnam in phases and the vaccine passport is one of the basic conditions to help satisfy the spirit of researching the reopening of the international tourism market amidst the fight against the epidemic.

In such a context, Dr. Nguyen Dinh Cung has stated that the opening of a mechanism for Vietnam Airlines to pilot digital passport is a prudent and necessary step as the COVID-19 epidemic is still complicated and expected to continue for a long time. In the short term, it can be applied on a small scale for groups of international visitors from countries that have controlled the epidemic well, allowing them to enter controllable tourist destinations such as Phu Quoc and Nha Trang.

This is a proactive way to prepare for the recovery of the international tourism market at the right time. Economic experts say that in order to fully uphold the functions of passengers with digital health passports in particular and the domestic vaccination programme in general, the Government should prioritise the development of technology infrastructure and technical solutions so businesses can take advantage of new technology while enhancing the ability to integrate with the common trends of advanced countries. In addition, it is crucial to study the step-by-step reopening of international routes and prepare plans for the application of vaccine passports and controlled trade towards ensuring COVID-19 prevention and control for people while aiding the recovery of important economic sectors.

According to Bui Doan Ne, General Secretary of the Aviation Business Association, Vietnam can gradually resume controlled international commercial flight routes. The vaccine passport solution is very feasible in the current period, while helping aviation and tourism businesses recover and support the economy. The IATA General Director, Alexandre de Juniac noted that the successful implementation of the IATA Travel Pass is proof that technology can help passengers and the Government manage travel and medical information in a safe, convenient and efficient manner. This is an important basis for the re-starting of international aviation, he added. The IATA Travel Pass has received positive feedback from the Governments of more than 70 countries and is being tested by more than 20 airlines, including 5-star airlines such as Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways, and others.

It is predicted that digital health passports will become a global trend, giving countries more confidence when they ease travel restrictions, helping the aviation industry recover soon, promoting trade and economic development amidst the epidemic fight.

Translated by NDO