The UK is set to start trialing digital coronavirus passports which can hold a person’s certified COVID-19 test status or show their vaccination status before travel.
According to the Daily Mail, this is the world’s first coronavirus passport technology and it will be powered by an app called CommonPass which was launched by the non-profit Commons Project Foundation – a part of the World Economic Forum. The app’s framework has been designed in collaboration with The Rockefeller Foundation and over 350 public and private sector leaders from 52 countries.
To use the app, passengers take a test at an approved lab or get a vaccine when it becomes available and upload their results to the app. These results are then sent to a local or national registry database or an existing personal health records app such as Apple Health or Google’s CommonHealth app.
The app then determines whether the person meets the entry requirements for their travel destination and generates a QR code that can be scanned upon entry by airline staff and border officials.
The trials of CommonPass will take place at Heathrow airport this week and will include volunteers on United Airlines and Cathay Pacific flights between London, New York, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
On its website, CommonPass states that “travelers will need secure and verifiable way to document their health status” in order for global travel and trade to return to pre-pandemic levels.
“Countries will need to be able to trust that a traveller’s record of a COVID PCR test or vaccination administered in another country is valid,” CommonPass adds.
While CommonPass is currently being positioned as a solution to check the health of travelers during the coronavirus pandemic, it has the “flexibility” to continue making travel contingent on the updated health screening requirements of countries post-pandemic.
The announcement of these coronavirus trials follows UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson proposing coronavirus passports last month. Johnson described them as a measure that would give people a “passport to mingle with everybody else who is similarly not infectious in a way that is currently impossible.”
In Ireland, a digital health passport was also unveiled last month as part of efforts to help with coronavirus testing. Like with CommonPass, this digital health passport is compatible with other tests and has the potential to be used in a post-coronavirus world.
And a couple of weeks before these coronavirus passport trials, Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood called for the creation of a “national database” that tracks vaccination status and issues certificates that would need to be internationally recognized to allow travel.
Coronavirus passports aren’t the only digital tracking tool that are being rolled out in the UK amid the coronavirus pandemic. An “optional” National Health Service (NHS) contact tracing app was also introduced last month.
Government guidance on the app states that its use is voluntary but less than a week after it launched, UK citizens started being refused entry to businesses unless they downloaded the app.
During the early stages of the pandemic, many online commentators warned that the coronavirus would be used to seize people’s rights but they were swiftly censored and dismissed as conspiracy theorists. Even the ACLU pushed back against the move to mandate coronavirus passports.
Six months later, digital passports that decide when citizens are allowed to travel and contact tracing apps that mandate when customers are allowed to enter business are not only a reality but becoming deeply ingrained into people’s daily lives.