How Covid vaccines could open up your holiday plans

The coronavirus pandemic is still extremely serious. Families are grieving: more than 108,000 people have died from Covid-19 in the UK.

The virus spread rapidly across the world and into the UK by air travel. And the UK lockdown means holidays at home or abroad are currently illegal.

But many people are looking ahead to later in 2021 and the opportunities for future holidays.

With the UK well ahead of other major European nations in its vaccination programme to protect against coronavirus, millions of prospective travellers are likely to have obtained both jabs by the time international journeys become feasible once more.

They could find themselves at an advantage. Increasingly many countries are introducing “immunotourism” policies that give more freedom to vaccinated travellers – and sometimes to people who have recovered from Covid-19.

Other nations and regions are busily immunising themselves against tourists: relying on jabs to confer protection on their own people, and then opening the doors to international visitors.

These are the key questions and answers.

INDY/GO Weekly Newsletter


Read our full mailing list consent terms here

INDY/GO Weekly Newsletter


Read our full mailing list consent terms here

Read more

What are the choices?

The Travel Pass initiative from the International Air Transport Association (Iata) is probably the most prominent proposal. It is an app-based system that incorporates layers of information.

At the most basic level, it aims to help passengers find accurate information on testing and vaccine requirements for their journey. This taps into Iata’s “Timatic” database which is used by airlines worldwide; if someone is refused boarding at an airport, it may be because Timatic says the passenger is non-compliant with the prevailing rules.

Conversely, if your app says you comply, then the airline should agree. It also provides details on testing centres and labs at your departure location which meet the standards for testing/vaccination requirements your destination.

But the real benefit, claims Iata, is that it enables those authorised labs and test centres to securely send test results or vaccination certificates to passengers in a format that is secure – as well as allowing authorities to assess your compliance with the rules.

So far it is not exactly a runaway success. The first government to sign up was Panama, not known as one of the world’s great aviation hubs. A trial involving the national airline, Copa, is due to start in March.

And the others?

Rival systems are largely aiming in the same direction: a simple yet secure system that can help travellers navigate through a tangle of restrictions as smoothly as possible while protecting privacy.

The slogan for CommonPass is: “Share your current health status so you can safely return to travel and life.” It is a collaboration between The Commons Project (a Swiss not-for-profit builder of digital platforms for communities), the World Economic Forum and others.

The proposition is: “CommonPass delivers a simple yes/no answer as to whether the individual meets the current entry criteria, but the underlying health information stays in the individual’s control.”

AOKpass focuses squarely on getting your medical records into a form where they can be securely and reliably scrutinised only by the appropriate authorities. For example, Etihad is trialling the AOKpass on flights between Abu Dhabi and Paris, while the Spanish city of Girona is using the concept to digitise Covid test results in a bid to reopen its economy.

A similar concept is offered by VeriFLY, which promises “a faster return to safe, in-person experiences”. It is being trialled by British Airways on routes from London to the US.

BA’s chief executive, Sean Doyle, said: “It is essential we do as much as we can now to help those who are eligible to fly and prepare to help our customers navigate the complexities around changing global entry requirements when the world reopens.”

Will I need all these different versions to travel?

Almost certainly not. While the world is sorting out some common international standard, akin to the yellow fever vaccination certificates that are still mandatory in many places, there is likely to be flexibility in the proof that is required.

The immunotourism options are being offered by countries and companies that want your business.

While they require more than just your word that you have either been vaccinated or recovered from Covid, they do not wish to make demands that are unduly onerous. That is why, for example, Estonia will be content with a certificate or letter from your doctor, so long as it contains all the essential information.

Meanwhile, in a bid to help manage the mushrooming range of products, the aviation technology giant Sita has come up with Health Protect.

The idea is to provide an interface that can integrate certification systems such as AOKpass with existing airline, airport, and government processes, bridging the gap between these schemes and aviation and border processes.

Sita says: “It enables authorities to make an informed decision whether a passenger can travel at the point of check-in, improving the safety of all passengers and avoiding costly return flights.

“Passengers without the required documentation, or considered high risk, will be unable to check in for their flight, ensuring they do not travel to the airport.”

In other words: you could fall at the first hurdle if your personal details do not qualify.

What other countries could be open to me?

Iceland waives entry restrictions for arrivals who have a PCR positive test result showing an infection from which they have recovered, and also allows people who can provide medically certified proof of vaccination with Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca doses completed within specified time frames.

The country of Georgia has lifted all restrictions for foreign visitors who arrive by air and can provide evidence of completing a two-dose course of any Covid-19 vaccine – including China’s Sinopharm and Russia’s Sputnik V.

Travellers who are allowed to enter Poland – which, given the restrictions in place, is a fairly short list – can avoid the need for a Covid-19 test if they can produce a certificate of vaccination.

Somewhere warmer?

The US island state of Hawaii has adopted a twin-track approach. Its reopening strategy is based on protecting its most vulnerable people, and gradually opening up once this is achieved – probably in late April or May. Initially arrivals who have been vaccinated will be given favourable terms.

Other countries are less impressed with vaccinated visitors.

The government in Barbados says: “Persons who have been vaccinated are asked to bring their vaccine documentation with them.” But it stresses you should expect no special treatment as a result: “Being vaccinated does not change entry requirements or restrictions in place.”

The Seychelles has a short-term policy: reopening to vaccinated visitors who can submit an “authentic certificate from their national health authority”. But by mid March, the Indian Ocean archipelago hopes largely to have immunised itself against tourists, and will invite the world back.

Anywhere else protecting its people first?

Israel has closed its borders while implementing the most advanced vaccination programme for a major country. But it has big plans for opening up in 2021. The tourism minister, Orit Farkash-Hacohen, has launched a campaign aimed at welcoming back members of the Jewish diaspora, as well as the first arrivals from the UAE under the new agreement.

She told a “Peace and Prosperity Round Table” in January: “We hope we will have a date that we can set as the target for opening everything up. Maybe March or April, definitely by May.”

What about companies insisting on vaccination?

That practice looks certain to grow. Already Saga has said that when its cruises resume on 4 May, anyone wanting to sail on its ships must have both coronavirus vaccinations. But the crew will not be required to be vaccinated. Instead they will undergo onboard quarantine and testing to try to ensure that they present no risk.

The boss of Qantas, Alan Joyce, has repeatedly said that vaccination will probably be required for passengers on international flights to and from Australia. But speaking at a Eurocontrol event early in February, the airline’s chief executive softened his approach and hinted that alternative arrangements could be made.

Where does that leave people who can’t or won’t have the jab?

At this stage no one really knows. Some people are medically unable to be vaccinated, while others may have beliefs that are incompatible with getting a Covid jab.

It is possible that if only a small number of people are involved, then a system of tests could meet the company’s or country’s criteria.

While the travel industry, and holidaymakers, come to terms with the new world, it is likely that a number of people will be disadvantaged by the “job and go” principle first espoused by Ryanair in its now-banned New Year advertising campaign.

I am comfortable with the idea that fellow passengers are vaccinated. What about staff?

This is another legal and moral minefield. It is entirely likely that airlines, cruise lines, hotels and other enterprises will ask their staff to be vaccinated when the appropriate time comes. It will help minimise the risk to colleagues and customers

Under employment legislation, firms may not force their employees to share sensitive health information with them. It is unlikely that they would be able to say, “have the jab or go”. But they may legally be able to move such staff to backroom roles on the grounds of their duty of care towards customers.

Source: Read Full Article