Unified approach vital for vaccine passports

Unified approach vital for vaccine passports

As Australia heads towards vaccination rates that will allow the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, questions continue around the potential for vaccine passports to cover access to everything from international travel to local restaurants and cafes.

With the Federal and state governments suggesting proof of vaccination will be required, elsewhere in the world some countries have either moved on from such a requirement or abandoned the idea completely.

Norway, where 76 per cent of people have received at least one dose of a vaccine and 67 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, has lifted all restrictions.

Denmark, where vaccination rates have reached more than 80 per cent of people above the age of 12, no longer requires proof of vaccination for entry to nightclubs, the last of its restrictions to fall.

Britain, which had been planning to introduce vaccine passports for entry to nightclubs and large events, abandoned the roll out while saying it would be kept in reserve if needed in the future.

Variations of vaccine passports continue to be used in a range of countries including Israel, France, and Italy.

In Australia, restrictions have eased in NSW and frontline staff are checking the vaccination status of patrons before they enter a range of venues — the first use of vaccination passports.

But when Australia’s hard international border comes down and the skies are open once again, it won’t be a matter of grabbing the passport and heading for the exit gate.

There is much to be done to resolve questions around vaccine passports and the treatment of those entering Australia before that can happen.

For corporate travel and events management company ATPI — specialists in travel for the mining and energy and marine sectors — vaccine passports, if mandated by individual governments, should be universal.

Travellers were anxious for clear guidelines and a consistent approach to how States would manage returning citizens. Will quarantine still be mandatory if coming from a green zone and will home quarantine be available in all States?

ATPI Regional Managing Director Pacific and Africa Peter Muller said that as long as COVID remained a danger, vaccine passports made sense “if it means our customers can travel freely”.

“However, there needs to be agreement with governments and airlines adopting one form of vaccine validation, much like traditional passports,” Mr Muller said

“With IATA currently trialling their Travel Pass with 53 airlines, and the Australian Government talking about their own digital passenger declarations, we risk complicating travel for business and essential workers with different requirements by country and airline.”

He said the rate of corporate travel had rebounded strongly in the United Kingdom as COVID-19 restrictions eased.

“We knew that it would return, but I think the industry generally has been surprised by the speed at which it has returned,” Mr Muller said.

“There is clearly a desire and a need among businesses to get their representatives in front of clients to do business face to face. In some respects, it’s a reaction to being forced into Teams and Zoom meetings for so long. People still need that personal approach that only a face-to-face meeting can deliver.”

In a sign of what could happen in Australia, Mr Muller said ATPI was also seeing the strong return of corporate travel in other countries, including The Netherlands and domestic US, as restrictions eased.

“We have staff in Australia helping clients in the UK because the rate at which corporate travel has returned has been significant. The same take-up domestically could happen within Australia — and certainly there will be companies wanting to return to corporate travel to meet clients outside Australia,” he said.

“Vaccine passports are likely to be the vehicle that enables that to happen more quickly, and we are making provisions in our software to support our customers on this. But there are still a lot of unanswered questions on the level of acceptance by other countries and airlines.

“The complexities will always differ, according to the country of destination. Vaccination rates and transmission rates in countries vary widely. Anything that keeps travellers safe or assists authorities in countries to understand the risk of the people entering their countries will be important.

“ATPI are specialists in corporate travel; 70 per cent of the people we move are essential workers who must arrive safely and on time to ensure mines continue to operate, ships sail, and offshore projects are safely manned.

“As part of our duty of care to our clients and their employees, we have overcome challenges to move crews safely to their destinations but also repatriate those stranded by the pandemic.”

He said that when international travel resumed, issues would continue around country specific border arrangements, in-country requirements, and the desire for security of flight and accommodation bookings that have the flexibility to be cancelled or changed in response to changing local conditions and rules.