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‘Blockchain’ Health Passports and the Plan to Travel Under the New Normal

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Travel has changed greatly during our pandemic time. Aside from the strict protocols on eligibility of travel under your current health status and the mandatory quarantine needed for all cross-border travel, a new verifiable and indelible way of proving you have been vaccinated is being commercially tested under the health passport concept.

Health Passports and a Bit of History

First, what are health passports? A health passport is a certified credential pertaining to your health status. It is verifiable by authorities and is recognized by international bodies such as airlines, healthcare providers and governments. With the digitalisation of every credential we have, health passports have gone from paper to digital codes that can be easily verified upon the point of entry. With the pandemic still ongoing, the talk about health passport have turned up again as health passports are being planned by immigration bureaus  and airlines as a certification that a person have gained partial immunity to the coronavirus through vaccination. The plan is to have a person be officially certified after vaccination and incorporate that credential into his or her travel credentials.

The concept of health passports is nothing new as three and four decades ago, travellers were being issued “International Certificates of Vaccination” against diseases such as polio and yellow fever that was authorized by the World Health Organization and was a travel requirement for United States citizens in countries where the vaccination against such diseases was an ongoing effort.

After a period of decades where global vaccination efforts were successful, the concept was archived for historical reference. As the coronavirus is constantly mutating and has proven to be transmitted on domestic travel, the concept of health passports is being discussed again and this time, with the advent of seamless information processing and verification on platforms such as Blockchain and Data Encryption, vaccination as health passports have become a mainstream media discussion once more.

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Global Efforts on Vaccinated Health Passports

  • Private entities such as Microsoft, Oracle and the Mayo Clinic were advocating for vaccine passports under the initiative called ‘Vaccination Credential Initiative’ where certificates for vaccination will be stored under an ecrypted digital wallet.
  • A Digital Travel Pass was developed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) as a response to the safety requirements for all travellers onboard flights. The pass is on a commercial testing phase and is being tested by entities such as 20 carriers worldwide including Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Qatar Airways and Malaysia airlines.
  • Bahrain launched COVID-19 Digital Certification under the “BeAware” app that stores and encrypts a person’s information and the date and location where they were vaccinated.
  • Denmark will institute a “Corona Passport” in order to resume normalcy through the digital certificate. People will need to present their vaccination credential in order to transact with businesses.
  • Israel has among the world’s fastest vaccination response rate and for the Israelis who have been vaccinated or who have recovered from the coronavirus, they will be able to get access to the Green App where their certification and immunity are stored.
  • Estonia and the World Health Organization have started a pilot testing on Digital Vaccine Certificate.
  • In India, citizens who are vaccinated will be given a QR code certificate as proof of their vaccination.
  • The European Union bared plans to have a COVID travel form by summer 2021.
  • The United Kingdom plans to start testing their Vaccine Passport as lockdowns are being lifted and restrictions are being lifted.
  • Global Airlines are working together to recognize the many vaccination and health passports in the coming months.

Blockchain Health Passports

The mechanism of Blockchain will prove to be a boon this collective – albeit fragmented efforts for a health / vaccination passport. Blockchain’s emerging outreach mechanism and protocols on permissioned access can allow global interoperability through:

  • Permissioned networks operating with other permissioned networks under a hand-shake protocol.
  • The person owns his or her health credentials and allows brief verification points on travel checkpoints.
  • Immutability and Verification protocols to recognize multiple platforms of health passports.

Upon point of verifications, Blockchain’s seamless process of proofing, cross-network scanning and non-custodian approach for verification points by authorities to travellers will make the process smoother, secure and authentic – thus making the transaction friction-free as much as possible to avoid long queues.

To date, Health Passports powered by Blockchain have been tested for societal use. The Blockchain mechanism enables health passports to bypass the Verification On Embedded Technology (VOET) architecture associated with QR Code and Digital Barcodes. The rollout are through the nations of:

  • South Korea through the COVID Vaccination Proof known as Green Pass where verification, authenticity and anti-counterfeit instances are running under a Blockchain.
  • Ubirth and IBM have won the tender in the development of a Digital Health Passport for Germany. It is reported that the health passport will operate on a Blockchain framework where for each vaccinated QR is created, an instance is recorded into the Blockchain as a hash print for future verification upon point of recall.

We’ve explored a bit of what the world’s response is to the need for a verifiable credential against the COVID-19 pandemic. You may be wondering what is the status of the Philippines and how it is responding to these developments – given that the National Capital Region (NCR) and its surrounding areas are under the Extended Community Quarantine. The Department of Tourism is reported to be considering to adopt the IATA Digital Travel Pass for Filipinos and foreign travellers alike as a standardized safety precaution. This is an accelerated response and initiative to catch up, gain administrative control against the infectious spread of COVID on travel.

In the next article, we will take a closer look at the IATA and Health Passport use cases in the Philippines.

This article is published on BitPinas: ‘Blockchain’ Health Passports and the Plan to Travel Under the New Normal

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