Covid-19 infections reaching 42 million people worldwide and more than 1 million global deaths to date. This infection rate and death toll have impacted public healthcare as well as other sectors and industries which have been affected, directly and indirectly, from the economic slowdown.
The economic impact due to the slowdown of travel and trade has been substantial compared to the numbers seen before the outbreak. In 2019, travel and tourism represented 10% of global GDP and accounted for 1 in 10 jobs worldwide. Between January and August 2020, there has been a 69% decrease in international passengers, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization. This has translated into airline losses of $350-$400 billion. The pandemic has caused an unprecedented disruption to world trade. The World Trade Organization forecasts a drop in trade between 13% and 32% in 2020.
1. Do countries need to learn to trust health data across borders?
Nine months into the pandemic, the prospect of vaccines may offer a light at the end of the tunnel. But in order for travel and trade to resume – even with vaccines available – policymakers need access to a common framework to aid in their data-based decisions on the border entry requirements of their country.
In the absence of being able to trust health data created outside their borders, many countries insist on testing on arrival, or else they close their borders. Some efforts have often been disparate and uncoordinated, and as a result, there have been a myriad of approaches to Covid-19 regulations and restrictions and almost as many different quarantine measures. Only a common ground for recovery and transparent health records across borders can restore trust again.
2. Rebuilding confidence in travelers
The issue of trust was especially clear in Europe during the summer when many chanced flying to holiday destinations. While they rested on the beach, travel restrictions had to be tightened and many were left facing an unexpected quarantine period upon return. The evolution of quarantine measures has become increasingly complex for travelers to follow, as individual states, sub-regions, cities and towns emerge as risk zones.
To avoid these situations, the world needs a unified digital infrastructure and health trust framework where health data is shared securely across borders, as well as with airlines and other stakeholders. Without it, people will not dare to board a plane, not so much for catching the virus during the flight, but because they will not know what will happen before or after their trip. Will they have to take a test at the airport when they land?
To potentially make international travel safer there is a need for solutions like CommonPass. The aim is to put a digital infrastructure and trust framework in place to accommodate vaccine records before vaccine distribution begins. Without a common shared platform for sharing health information, the confusing range of uncoordinated regulations and restrictions will continue, even if a vaccine or several vaccines become available.
3. First global trials for sharing health data across borders
Trials for this health trust framework will be piloted in October 2020, in collaboration with major airlines and airports, with governments taking an observer role. The trials are intended to demonstrate how the CommonPass framework is built to protect privacy, show how test results from a trusted lab or vaccination record flow into the framework and can be presented at the airport on arrival.
With a mutual acceptance of each other’s tests, countries can confidently allow travelers and trade to resume. A solid infrastructure will get us moving again.
Testing ought to be not just for the privileged, but for everyone. Everyone would need to be able to control their own health data and store it securely.
It is unlikely that a single policy will be accepted by every country, but if a future with safe travel is desired, a digital trust framework that can accommodate different types of health information should be implemented so that countries can have the flexibility to apply nuanced rules that can evolve rather than having to implement new processes and systems whenever there is a change caused by a new virus.