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Will We Need a Vaccine Passport to Head to the Mountains Next Winter?

It is looking increasing likely with a number of countries including Austria & Switzerland supporting the idea. Austria has said it wants a system in place by May or June. The airline industry itself is set to introduce a Covid Travel Pass with trials underway.

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As the vaccine roll out continues and some control is brought over coronavirus no country wants to import the virus and its variants.

Negative tests and vaccine certificates are likely to be the norm.

On Thursday the Austrian Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, called for a Europe-wide vaccination passport.

The previous day Austria’s Health Minister said a decision on vaccination privileges would be made in April.

It seems Chancellor Kurz wants it sooner and has spoken publicly in support of the idea being introduced at a European level.

“We want to get back to normal as quickly as possible, to have our old life back and a maximum of freedom,” said Chancellor Kurz in a newspaper interview.

“As long as the pandemic and virus exist that will only work if we take protective measures either through a vaccination or a test,” he added.

Austria wants a system in place by May or June which would  allow summer tourism to go ahead.

The Tirol, Austria

The Tirol, Austria

Support is also growing in Switzerland for the introduction of an immunity card to allow people to enter the country.

The current Swiss President, Guy Parmelin, has said that “everyone who wants to travel will need to be vaccinated in the future”.

Several prominent Swiss politicians and health experts have added their support to a  vaccination passport.

It would also allow holders to go to ski resorts, bars, gyms and attend events within the country.

The chief executive of Heathrow Airport, John Holland-Kaye, says vaccine checks should be put on a phone app.

“I think this will be an app that allows you to demonstrate you have had whatever checks are required by a particular country.

“Put it all on an app in a very secure way and that will allow people to travel more normally.”

He says paper certificates can be an alternative for those who do not have smart phones.

With paper certificates there is more risk of forgery.

However not all politicians have such enthusiasm – Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and the EU Commission chief, Ursula von der Leyen, are sceptical – they worry that data on protection from Covid remains incomplete.

The UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has said there are “deep and complex issues” surrounding the introduction of Covid-19 status certificates.

Some people are hesitant about having a vaccine.

The Queen has been on zoom talking of her experiences.

Her Majesty has urged people to get a Covid vaccine when they are offered one, saying hers “didn’t hurt at all”.

The monarch, 94, and the Duke of Edinburgh, 99, received their first doses of the vaccine in January.

In a video call with health leaders delivering the Covid vaccine across the UK, the Queen was asked about her experience of having the jab.

She smiled as she replied: “Well, as far as I can make out it was quite harmless.

“It was very quick, and I’ve had lots of letters from people who’ve been very surprised by how easy it was to get the vaccine.”

“It didn’t hurt at all,” the Queen said, adding that she has since felt “protected”.

The monarch said she understood getting a jab could be a “difficult” experience for some people but urged everyone to “think about other people rather than themselves”.

See here for the full story on the BBC.

Her Majesty on Zoom

Her Majesty on Zoom

A petition urging the government not to introduce vaccine passports has had close to 200,000 signatures.

The online petition says the passports could be “used to restrict the rights of people who have refused a Covid-19 vaccine”.

Any parliamentary petition signed by over 100,000 people must be considered for a debate.

On Tuesday Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a review of vaccine certificates or passports.

Proof of vaccination could allow people to travel or attend large events.

Vaccination is not mandatory, and the petition says passports “would be unacceptable”.

Flying to the Alps

 

Israel is the country that has gone furthest down the road of vaccine passports – currently for internal use.

Since Sunday, February 21st, Israel has a pass – known as a Green Pass – that allows holders to visit gyms, bars, restaurants, theatres and sporting events.

Travel privileges are expected in the future in Israel.

Israel has the highest percentage of its population vaccinated – 89 people per 100.

In the UK it is 27.

The skiing nations of Europe are further down the list.

Switzerland in at 8 per 100 people, with France, Austria and Italy all on 6.

The figure is 19 in the USA and 4 in Canada.

Switzerland is also looking at a similar pass similar to Israel for internal use.

The President of the National Council’s Health Commission, Ruth Humbel, said this week that Switzerland should introduce a Green Pass style vaccination ID.

“Instead of keeping everything banned until the summer, people with a Green Pass should be able to attend football matches, clubs, open air events and festivals again,” she said.

She added that vaccination data could be fed into the Swiss Covid coronavirus tracing app to allow entry to various events and venues.

Verbier, Switzerland

Verbier, Switzerland

There are though important concerns about privacy and practicalities.

Professor Melinda Mills from the University of Oxford was the lead author of a report published last week into vaccination passports.

She told BBC Radio that they would need to be fraud-proof and available to all.

“Forgery is an issue, and I think also equality,” she said.

“If it’s only digital, what are you going to do for people that don’t have access to digital devices?”

She said she would be in favour of them as long as they were “transparent and clear”.

“I think it’s coming for international travel,” she said.

“As long as it’s really clear and there’s agreed-upon standards, and they’re clear about the data privacy, yes, of course I would like that.”

The International Air Transport Association, IATA, says it expects its digital Covid Travel Pass to be ready “within weeks”.

The pass is an app that verifies a passenger has had the Covid-19 tests or vaccines required to enter a country.

IATA sees the pass as essential for re-opening air travel.

Singapore Airlines started trials of the travel pass in December and now Etihad, Emirates, Qatar Airways and Air New Zealand are conducting their own trials.

There could be a working system in the Asia Pacific region within the next few weeks.

Airlines and governments in Europe and elsewhere will be watching the system closely.

In the UK the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Michael Gove, is leading a review into the possible introduction and use of vaccine passports within the UK.

For international travel it is perhaps a simpler affair as there are already vaccination certificates and medical rules in place.

The Yellow Card is a World Health Organisation document which confirms passengers have been vaccinated.

It is often used to prove that passengers have had yellow fever vaccinations required to enter some countries.

UPDATED:

Here is a snapshot of reaction from PlanetSKI readers on Facebook:

Facebook reaction

Facebook reaction

The issue was raised on Thursday in a virtual meeting of EU leaders.

Afterwards the Austrian Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, tweeted that “we’re advocating a digital Green Pass, like Israel’s”.

“That should allow you to prove, on your mobile phone, that you’ve been tested, inoculated or have recovered [from Covid]. Our goal: to avoid a lengthy lockdown and finally enable freedom to travel again in the EU, and freedom to enjoy events and cuisine.”

Updates to follow…

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