Digital health passport CommonPass begins testing to help travel and trade resume

CommonPass allows travelers to document their COVID-19 status electronically and present it when they board a plane or cross a border.
By Mallory Hackett
12:34 pm
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A new digital health pass for travelers, CommonPass, will begin testing internationally today, the Commons Project Foundation and the World Economic Forum announced.

The purpose of CommonPass is to allow travelers to document their COVID-19 status electronically and present it when they board a plane or cross a border, giving both the traveler and the country assurance that safe traveling is taking place.

CommonPass was developed by the Commons Project Foundation, a nonprofit public trust that's building global digital services and platforms, and the World Economic Forum, an international organization for public-private cooperation.

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To use it, travelers take a COVID-19 test at a verified lab and share their results with CommonPass. From there, they complete any additional screening measures set up by the destination country.

Once their health information has been confirmed to be in compliance with the country’s entry requirements, CommonPass generates a QR code that can be viewed on mobile phones or printed. Airline staff, border officials and any other health personnel can then scan the code to ensure all safety measures were taken.

The CommonPass platform is adaptable. It allows governments to update their entry requirements as the pandemic progresses. It also promotes user privacy by complying with privacy policies like the general data protection regulation (GDPR).

Two of the trials that are underway partner with Cathay Pacific Airways and United Airlines. They attempt to mimic the full traveler experience of taking a COVID-19 test prior to departure, uploading the results, and following entry requirements at their departure and destination airports.

The trials will take place for a flights between Hong Kong International Airport to Singapore Changi International Airport and London Heathrow Airport to Newark Liberty International Airport.

Following these trials, CommonPass will expand to additional airlines and routes across Asia, Africa, the Americas, Europe and the Middle East.

WHY IT MATTERS

During the pandemic, many countries took measures to decrease cross-border travel with the hopes of stopping the spread of COVID-19. In early April, 194 countries implemented visa restrictions and 143 closed their borders, according to the World Health Organization

These protective measures have been found to be counterproductive at times because they can discourage people from disclosing relevant information during screenings and could hinder the movement of health workers and essential supplies, according to an article published in the Lancet.

They have also had significant economic impacts on countries. For example, European exports of services dropped by 10.6% and imports of services dropped by 3.3% in March 2020 compared to the previous year, according to the European Central Bank.

"Individual national responses will not be sufficient to address this global crisis,” said Christoph Wolff, head of mobility at the World Economic Forum, in a statement. "Bans, bubbles and quarantines may provide short-term protection, but developed and developing nations alike need a long-term, flexible and risk-based approach like CommonPass."

Through its framework, CommonPass is working to get travel and trade back to pre-pandemic levels by supplying a secure and verifiable way to document travelers’ health status as they cross borders, it says on its website.

“Partners across the globe are looking for sustainable solutions to keep travel healthy, responsible and safe,” said Dr. Martin Cetron, the director of the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine at CDC, in a statement. “CDC is eager to learn from the CommonPass pilot, as it could be one of the many potential tools that may one day contribute to a safe, responsible and healthy global air travel experience.”

THE LARGER TREND

Around the world, countries still have varying degrees of travel restrictions, according to the U.S. Department of State.

Over the course of the pandemic, several other platforms with similar functions have sprouted up to help get travel back to normal.

IBM created its own version that is currently under limited availability. Users of the IBM version can download the digital health pass, upload relevant health data and receive a QR code that can be reviewed when they travel or attend an event.

London-based Tento Health also created a similar product, originally called COVI-PASS. The company has since pivoted to include a suite of products used to securely store and share health information.

Although these systems present a path to get travel and trade back on track, others worry they could deteriorate the public’s personal privacy. The fear is that these health-tracking platforms could be a slippery slope towards a system comparable to China’s social credit rating, which rewards or punishes people based on their behaviors.

Other efforts to help create safe travel during the pandemic include Etihad Airways’ COVID-19 risk assessment tool that assesses the users’ probability of having contracted coronavirus. Google Maps also updated its system to show users the prevalence of COVID-19 cases in an area by creating a color-coded overlay that illustrates the seven-day averages of new cases per 100,000 in that area.

 

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