Vaccine Passports are coming someday soon. You may need to prove your Covid status to go to the pub, food-joint, travel abroad or even go to work.
- IMF projects a 6% growth in global economy for the year 2021 driven by the US-China-India triumvirate.
- The Tourism sector – one of the worst pandemic-hit sectors – has been bleeding losses of about a staggering $1 trillion due to a drop in tourist travels.
- Countries are entering into bubble agreements with zero covid approach to facilitate travel between nations.
- The UK might take a lesson from Israel’s ‘Green Pass’ initiative to implement similar policies in the country.
- Vaccine Passports receive strong dissent from the opposition parties in the US and UK over concerns regarding privacy and vaccination inequalities between nations.
Global Economic Rebound
The global economy is like to witness a significant rebound in 2021 according to an International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecast. As a result of vaccination and financial assistance, the global growth is estimated to be at 6% in 2021. In January the IMF had predicted that the global economy would grow by 5.5%. Global growth will be driven by three countries, the US, China, and India. While speaking at the start of the IMF Spring meeting, World Bank President David Malpass stated: ‘…there is faster global growth driven primarily by the US, China, and India, having strong rebounds’.You will find more infographics at Statista
Tourism Hit by the Pandemic
One of the industries which was hit significantly by the pandemic was travel. According to the UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism organization) barometer, the period from January-October 2020 witnessed a whopping 72% drop in tourist arrivals. International tourist arrivals dropped by 900 Million when compared to the January-October 2019 period. The loss in export revenues, year on year, from the tourism sector was a staggering 945 Billion USD. Tourist arrivals across regions witnessed a drop. According to the UNWTO barometer, the drop in tourism would cause a loss of 2 Trillion USD to the global economy.You will find more infographics at Statista
Arrangements for essential travel during the pandemic
During the midst of the pandemic, agreements were signed to facilitate essential travel between various countries. In many cases these were workers, students, or individuals who had to travel for emergency purposes. Countries that have been successful in dealing with the pandemic have been looking to open up. Since October 2020, Singapore whose economy is heavily dependent upon tourism had begun to explore arrangements whereby travel with certain countries was less restrictive, and either the quarantine period was reduced or in some cases not required.
‘The Trans-Tasman travel bubble represents a start of a new chapter in our COVID response and recovery, one that people have worked so hard at.’New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern
Australia has been permitting travellers from New Zealand to enter most parts of the country without quarantine, though this has not been reciprocated.
Last week, a travel bubble had also opened between Taiwan which has reported a little over 1,000 cases and 10 deaths, and the Island of Palau which has reported 0 deaths. Here travellers need not quarantine themselves but there are a number of other restrictions.
Vaccine Passports, Digital Pass and the Various Debates
As countries get ready to open up travel, There has been a debate with regard to using ‘vaccine passports’. These are documents which show that travelers have been vaccinated against Covid-19 or recently tested negative for the virus. One country which is using this experiment domestically is Israel. It has issued a document known as ‘Green Pass’ to those who have been vaccinated or if they have developed immunity. This Green Pass can be used for entry into gyms, hotels, restaurants and theatres. The UK and US too are mooting the idea of introducing such an arrangement. This idea has faced fervent opposition in both countries. In the UK, opposition parties Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party (SNP) have opposed the idea of such a covid certification document. The reasons cited for opposition are concerns with regard to ‘equity, ethics and privacy’. The UK government has stated that a covid status certificate would not be introduced before June, and trials of various schemes to ensure safe opening up of the UK economy would carry on.
Watch: Can Vaccine Passports help revive the global economy and return to normalcy?
In the US, Republicans are opposing the idea of a vaccine passport saying that such an idea would be an attack on personal freedoms. Donald Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr urged Republicans to ‘vocally and aggressively’ stand up against vaccine passports.
If one were to look at international travel, International Airport Transport Association (IATA) has introduced a travel pass, a digital certificate, which will confirm a flyer’s COVID-19 test result and vaccination status. Singapore will be accepting travellers using this mobile digital pass from May 2021. While the pass has been tested by Singapore Airlines, 20 airlines including Emirates and Malaysia Airlines are in the process of testing the pass.
While one of the pitfalls of a covid status certificate or Vaccine passport is the impingement upon privacy, it has also been argued that given the slow rate of vaccination developing countries will be at a disadvantage. The Head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. John Nkengasong says: “We are already in a situation where we don’t have vaccines, and it will be extremely unfortunate that countries impose a travel requirement of immunization certificates whereas the rest of the world has not had the chance to have access to vaccines.”
The other challenge with regard to international travel is the nature of the pandemic. Just as countries seem to have the pandemic under control, they have been struck by a second wave. This too is impacting travel plans. New Zealand for instance has banned any Indian travellers from April 11-28, 2021 and the rising cases may lead to other countries imposing restrictions on Indian travellers.
Thus it is important for innovative ways to resume international travel. Safety needs to be balanced with equity. For this, it is important that all stakeholders engage in a constructive manner.
A number of observers have suggested that vaccine passports/covid status certificates should be made optional and that there is nothing wrong in using technology per se, but it should not be thrust on anyone.
The fight against the pandemic and revival of international travel is a golden opportunity for countries to reverse the increasing sense of insularity which has grown globally. It remains to be seen how countries respond.