China has launched a digital passport that will help individuals prove their health status when traveling to or from abroad, and could contribute to further opening China’s borders. This health certificate for international travel is a smartphone application that displays and authenticates passengers’ health data, such as their Covid tests (PCR and antibodies) or vaccination status. For now, the app is not mandatory and is only available to Chinese people. It will offer individuals more convenience when they travel and, according to the China News Agency, it will help boost tourism recovery “as mutual recognition agreements for health certificates are reached between China and other countries”.
The application aims to “promote global economic recovery and facilitate border crossings,” the foreign ministry said, without specifying what concrete benefits it entitles or whether other countries plan to recognize it. The United States and the United Kingdom are considering launching similar systems. In the European Union, the idea of a “green passport” will be presented by the EU Commission on March 17.
Amadeus has put forward its health passport solution with health information aggregators, including CommonPass developer the Commons Project Foundation, which is backed by the World Economic Forum.
The International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) has also been working on a Travel Pass, which would help keep a safe traveling experience while simplifying the boarding process.
With the exception of localized outbreaks, China has been largely free of Covid-19 since the spring of 2020 thanks to containment, mass screening, widespread use of masks and quarantines imposed on entry to the country. Launched on March 8th via a mini-program embedded in the popular WeChat app, China’s new health passport will also be available for printing in paper form.
Since the end of March 2020, China has only allowed Chinese nationals and a limited number of foreigners to enter the country. It has also limited the number of international flights. Among foreigners, only diplomats, business people and people with valid residence and work permits can enter the country under certain conditions.
All travelers, Chinese and foreigners alike, must also undergo a 14-day quarantine in a hotel at their own expense upon arrival. The launch of this digital health passport opens up the possibility that this system will be extended to foreigners and that travel restrictions will be partially lifted.