Vaccine passports are a patchy travel solution

Passengers look at a departures board at Algiers Airport in Algiers, Algeria, June 1, 2021. REUTERS / Ramzi Boudina

LONDON, July 1 (Reuters Breakingviews) – Vaccine passports are a patchy travel solution. European Union travel permits were posted on Thursday, but varying standards within the bloc and the risk of the Delta variant spreading rapidly is a recipe for confusion and flashbacks. Governments around the world will suffer worse headaches when they attempt to open their borders.

Europe has three criteria for obtaining a vaccine certificate – a previous infection with Covid-19, a vaccination or a recent negative test. The information, verified by health authorities, is uploaded to an application by passengers before their arrival at the airport. Israel already runs a similar program costing up to $ 60 per certificate. New York State took it a step further by partnering with IBM to create a pass that grants access to indoor events.

Yet divergent standards undermine the feasibility of such programs. The EU, for example, lets each country set its own rules. So, there are 10 different sets of requirements, making it difficult for travelers to know basic things like how far in advance they need to get tested. New, more infectious variants are also problematic. Last week, Germany announced a two-week quarantine for all travelers from Portugal, regardless of their vaccination status. Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for similar restrictions for the British.

Globally, these cleavages are amplified. Countries may disagree on which brands of vaccine are considered acceptable. China, Chile and Indonesia, for example, use the Chinese-made Sinovac jab, which the World Health Organization says is only 51% effective against symptomatic illnesses. In a possible sign of things to come, in the United States last week, people vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine were excluded from a Bruce Springsteen concert. Citizens of poorer countries with minimal access to inoculation or reliable testing could face years of exclusion.

Given the politicization of vaccines and economic challenges, the WHO is unlikely to achieve global consensus, let alone enforce the kind of compliance associated with long-standing diseases like yellow fever. Governments will continue to act unilaterally to protect their citizens and their economies as they see fit. Some will cancel permits at any time. Like their holders, vaccine passports may not be stolen.

To pursue @aimeedonnellan on Twitter

NEWS CONTEXT

– The European Union introduced Covid-19 certificates on July 1 that will indicate whether an individual is vaccinated, is immune due to a previous infection, or has a recent negative test result.

– The European Commission has said that holders of digital certificates should “in principle” be exempt from health-related travel restrictions. He recognized that Member States could still impose restrictions when “necessary and proportionate”.

– The UK government is also aiming to introduce quarantine-free travel for doubly vaccinated holidaymakers by July 26, the first full week of school holidays, The Times reported on July 1.

– The EU has inoculated 50.2% of its population with at least one Covid-19 vaccine.

Editing by Ed Cropley and Karen Kwok

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Corina C. Butler

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