It has been 11 months since Covid-19 began begun to restrict our freedoms in one way or another.
We are now in a position where mobility between countries is almost nil, with airlines maintaining just 10% of their normal traffic.
The economies that are dependent on tourism have been so severely affected that in order to revive the sector, countries such as the United Kingdom, Spain, Malta, Greece, Denmark, Sweden and Estonia are already testing the idea of creating digital passports that will show whether people have been vaccinated against coronavirus. This would allow them to travel and ease some of the tough restrictions.
Such a document could also be used to help people get back to normal life: go to museums, restaurants or sporting events.
British Health officials had previously dismissed vaccination passports given the lack of evidence that coronavirus vaccines prevented transmission, as well as reduce serious illness. But enthusiasm for the vaccine document has been reignited after recent studies have shown that Covid-19 jabs do cut transmission.
The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has confirmed that it is in favour of these new vaccination passports. They say that tourism “needs urgent help.” “Vaccines should be part of a broader and coordinated approach that includes certificates and passes for safe cross-border travel,” said its secretary general.
Some countries have already started. In Poland the certification can be accessed in the form of a downloadable QR code after receiving the second dose of the vaccine for travel. Estonia began testing a “digital immunity passport” earlier this year, potentially to track those who have recovered from Covid with some immunity. In three months, Denmark wants to implement them in the same way: an additional passport that will be stored on the mobile.
Just last week the UK Government confirmed that it is ‘working on vaccine passports’ for British people to go on summer holidays amid signs that a number of countries will drop quarantine rules for those who can prove they’ve had the jab.
Such a move could be a massive lifeline for the tourist industry in many countries, not least of which would be Spain where the pandemic has destroyed the sector with a staggering 77% decrease in tourism last year.
Unfortunately though, for every country and organisation that looks at such a move with positivity there others that are critical of the special privileges it will bring for vaccinated individuals.
The European Commission, which has been analysing all the proposed vaccination certificates, has said that, for now, such certificates should only be used for medical purposes.
The World Health Organization also has a clear opinion on this: it opposes for the moment the introduction of these certificates as a condition to allow the entry of international travellers to other countries. “There are still too many fundamental unknowns in terms of the effectiveness of vaccines in reducing virus transmission, and vaccines are still available only in limited quantities,” the committee said in its recommendations.
Security experts too are sceptical, saying that the fear arises that this type of document could be falsified. Europol warned a few days ago that the online production and sale of false certificates of negative in coronavirus tests is regularly being detected in airports and stations throughout Europe.
And of course there are also those who think that the introduction of these “safe conducts” could restrict the freedoms and violate the human rights of some social groups and impoverished countries that will take longer to have access to the doses, creating first and second class citizens.