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No one knows what the future of travel will look like. Yet, with the coronavirus pandemic continuing to wreak havoc on societies around the world, there is becoming more urgency to come up with methods of keeping us safe while allowing life to transition back to a form of normality.
Airport testing is gradually seeing an increase with the UK the latest nation to begin trialling its use.
Yet, even with rapid response tests slowly being rolled out, testing remains limited.
Travel experts hope for a more long-term approach which could help the travel industry regain some of its former glory.
Health passports are a concept that has been thrown around in recent months, and one which is already being used in Hong Kong, as well as by the Premier League, and the England and Wales Cricket Board.
Avi Lasarow is the CEO of Prenetics, the company currently providing Covid testing for the UK sport and cultural sectors as well as assisting with pilot testing for airports.
He spoke exclusively with Express.co.uk the additional supportive measure which he suggests could work in tandem with the current testing trials.
“Health passports are a digital tool that can be used to govern access to designated points based on a health record that contains a COVID-19 test result that is valid,” the expert explained.
“We believe that in time, a ‘common’ health passport can be developed between countries as a means to standardise access based on health data and also govern authentic testing providers and associated testing certificates.”
Despite their name, however, health passports would not necessarily be linked to traditional travel documents.
“Our view is they would be separate and not linked to regular passport currently. We can see a system whereby national identification cards are linked to health data,” said Mr Lasarow.
Health passports would offer travellers a means of proving they are Covid-free ahead of travel, while also allowing international nations to access any relevant health data.
Of course, this would not eliminate the need for testing.
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“Our view is that mass testing would be required at points of intersection (at doctors, communities, offices, schools etc) and fully integrated into the government track and trace system on an ongoing basis,” explained Mr Lasarow.
“If weekly testing was taking place, then airports would be only one of these locations that contribute to a much wider scheme.
“It is only government policy that would dictate the elimination or position on quarantine.”
Currently, travellers must undergo two weeks of mandatory quarantine on arrival back into the UK from certain destinations.
However, health passports could be the key to scrapping this all together.
And the good news is, they are already being widely used, with Prenetics’ own Clinical Health Passport being put to good use by “the Premier League already, England & Wales Cricket Board, a number of film productions and in Hong Kong for aviation.”
Furthermore, UK aviation could be soon to follow, with a number of trials anticipated at Heathrow Airport in the coming months.
Two trials are set to take place in the coming month, with pilots and cabin crew from Virgin Atlantic using a digital app called Yoti, to prove they have been tested.
The airport is also set to run a programme between London and New York, using the CommonPass app.
According to Mr Lasarow, the “health passport” concept would work well with the Government’s current plans for the future.
“We understand that the Government’s ‘Project Moonshot’ is evaluating all integration points for testing and one could imagine the ‘Moonshot Passport’ as part of the service,” he said.
He added: “In the same way it was a new innovation to have a credit card in your wallet, a health passport with your test information for access will become the norm.”
Much like the current “Track and Trace” system, the expert believes the data could well be handled by specialist teams, meaning Britons aren’t faced with stacks of admin ahead of travel.
“It is not impossible to have accredited labs/companies that feed information into these health passports. In fact, it is highly likely,” he said.
“Companies like IBM or others through their blockchain technology would also help keep things secure when moving to scale.”
These companies could then input any new coronavirus tests results or relevant health data.
Thankfully, though a positive COVID-19 result would be reflected on an individual’s health passport, it would not act as a “prohibitor for future travel” once the person had beaten the virus.
Furthermore, if a vaccine is successfully developed, carrying proof of immunity in a health passport could be the key to eliminating the need for testing altogether.
“It is highly possible that other medical results would be linked to the passport,” said Mr Lasarow.
“The future here and COVID-19 has accelerated so many different concepts that anything is possible to get us back to work and normality.”
For the expert, health passports pose little downside.
However, one factor that may turn holidaymakers off the idea is the potential for an added cost.
Mr Lasarow warned they could carry “a cost at the time of travel like a regular VISA”, however, he also points to the current Government Track and Trace system which is free of charge for those who wish to use it.
Though the intricacies of how travellers would apply for a health passport haven’t yet been hammered out, nations are already in talks about how they can create safe travel links, potentially lending help from health data.
“Already we know that The Commonwealth and various countries are exploring coming together with frameworks that open up travel and movement,” explained Mr Lasarow.
If trials prove successful, and more nations tap into the concept, it seems health passports could be the key to unlocking the lockdown for good.
Mr Lasarow concluded: “As long as the system is robust with the right security around data and handling of such data, we believe that health passports are here to stay.”
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