Nov 24, 2020 - Economy & Business

Airlines push for "COVID-free passports" as vaccine race heats up

Airline employees are seen at Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport in Santiago on November 23

Airline employees at Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport in Santiago on Monday, after Chile resumed international flights. Photo: Martin Bernetti/AFP via Getty Images

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced Monday that it's "in the final development phase" of a "digital passport" mobile app that would receive COVID-19 test and vaccination certificates.

Why it matters: Per a statement from Nick Careen, IATA's senior vice president of airport, passenger, cargo and security, the app would "get people traveling again safely," as the airline industry seeks to recover from the pandemic.

  • "In the immediate term, that means giving governments confidence that systematic COVID-19 testing can work as a replacement for quarantine requirements," Careen said. "And that will eventually develop into a vaccine program."

Driving the news: IATA's announcement comes after three coronavirus vaccine candidates Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and the University of Oxford-AstraZeneca, this month reported efficacy rates of 90% or more.

For the record: Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has publicly thrown his support behind "COVID passports," telling Channel 9 on Monday that Australia's national carrier planned to require travelers to provide proof of having a coronavirus vaccination as a non-negotiable condition of international air travel.

  • Joyce said he'd spoken with other airlines, adding: "It's going to be a common theme across the board." For now, only Qantas has made such an announcement.

The big picture: IATA and British Airways' parent company, International Airlines Group (IAG), have been working together on the digital pass and plan to conduct a trial later this year, with the launch "slated for quarter one 2021," IATA said.

  • Alan Murray Hayden, IATA's head of passenger and security products, said at a briefing the app would use blockchain technology, but it wouldn't store data, per Bloomberg.
  • Other similar apps have already been tested. Trials of the World Economic Forum and non-profit Commons Project Foundation's CommonPass app were conducted on New York-London flights and International SOS's AOKpass is being used between Abu Dhabi and Pakistan, Bloomberg notes.

By the numbers: The U.S. surpassed 12 million confirmed coronavirus cases last Saturday and 250,000 deaths from COVID-19 last Wednesday.

  • The virus death toll in the U.S. had exceeded 257,700 by Tuesday morning. Over 12.4 million Americans have now tested positive for the virus, per Johns Hopkins.
  • Globally, almost 1.4 million people have lost their lives to the virus and more than 59.1 million have tested positive.

Go deeper: Designing digital immunity certificates for COVID-19

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