Global health 'passports' met with caution

International travel health certificates to show that a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19 are being rolled out or discussed by many governments around the world to help restart economies and cross-border travel.

However, the potential for discrimination, theft of health information or fraud is among experts' concerns.

On Monday, China officially kicked off a mini program, backed by the social media app WeChat, that enables subscribers to obtain a Chinese version of an international travel health certificate, allowing people-to-people exchanges to resume in a safe and orderly way.

While protecting personal privacy, the certificate will help achieve mutual recognition of information such as COVID-19 nucleic acid testing and vaccination.

China is willing to discuss mutual recognition of vaccination, and how it would work, with other countries, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at a news conference on Sunday on the sidelines of the ongoing session of the National People's Congress, the nation's top legislature.

Iceland in late January became the first country in the 26-member Schengen Area, a passport-free zone in Europe, to issue vaccine certificates.

Meanwhile, the leaders of the 27-member European Union hope to adopt a proposal for its vaccine "passport", known as a Green Digital Certificate, at a meeting of member states on March 17.

"Exactly how it will then be used by member states in order to improve freedom of movement still needs to be defined," Eric Mamer, chief spokesman for the European Commission, the executive branch of the EU, said during a virtual news conference on Monday.

The EU aims to vaccinate 70 percent of its adult population by the end of this summer, but so far less than 10 percent has been vaccinated.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has joined some tourism-dependent countries such as Spain and Greece in pushing for vaccination certificates. "Those who are vaccinated should have full freedom," he said.

Tourism provides 27 million jobs in Europe and generates about 10 percent of the EU's GDP when tourism-dependent sectors are included.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that for now, treating vaccinated travelers preferentially "isn't on the agenda, given the low vaccination coverage at this point".But she indicated openness to such certificates later this year.

The French government also was cautious, with some officials worrying about a resurgence of new cases with such certificates. Surveys have indicated that only half of French people were willing to be inoculated.

Cyprus said it will begin welcoming vaccinated visitors from the United Kingdom on May 1.

世界各地的许多政府正在推出或讨论国际旅行健康证明,以显示一个人已经接种了新冠肺炎疫苗,从而帮助重启经济和跨境旅行。然而,歧视、窃取健康信息或欺诈的可能性是专家们关注的问题。周一,中国正式启动了一个由社交媒体应用微信支持的小型项目,该项目使用户能够获得中国版的国际旅行健康证书,从而使人与人之间的交流能够安全有序地恢复。在保护个人隐私的同时,该证书将有助于实现新冠肺炎核酸检测和疫苗接种等信息的相互认可。中国国务委员兼外交部长王毅周日在全国最高立法机构全国人民代表大会期间举行的新闻发布会上表示,中国愿意与其他国家讨论疫苗接种的相互承认及其工作方式。1月底,冰岛成为由26个成员国组成的申根地区(欧洲无护照区)中第一个发放疫苗证书的国家。与此同时,由27个成员国组成的欧盟领导人希望在3月17日的成员国会议上通过一项关于其疫苗“护照”的提案,该护照被称为绿色数字证书。欧盟执行机构欧盟委员会(European Commission)首席发言人埃里克马木尔(Eric)周一在一次虚拟新闻发布会上表示:“欧盟成员国将如何利用这一机制来改善行动自由,仍有待确定。”。欧盟的目标是在今年夏天结束前为70%的成年人接种疫苗,但迄今为止只有不到10%的人接种过疫苗。奥地利总理塞巴斯蒂安·库尔茨与西班牙和希腊等一些依赖旅游业的国家一起努力争取疫苗接种证书。“接种疫苗的人应该有充分的自由,”他说。旅游业在欧洲提供了2700万个就业岗位,如果将依赖旅游业的部门包括在内,旅游业创造的就业机会约占欧盟国内生产总值的10%。德国总理安格拉·默克尔表示,目前优先对待接种疫苗的旅客“不在议程上,因为目前接种疫苗的覆盖率较低”。但她在今年晚些时候表示对此类证书持开放态度。法国政府也很谨慎,一些官员担心有此类证明的新案件会再次出现。调查显示,只有一半的法国人愿意接种疫苗。塞浦路斯表示,将于5月1日开始欢迎来自英国的接种疫苗游客。

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has indicated that vaccine certificates are "under consideration", but some UK government officials, including Health Secretary Matt Hancock, have contradicted him.

Israel, which has vaccinated more than 40 percent of its population, the highest rate in the world, has agreed to test a travel bubble with EU member states Greece and Cyprus to open the door for vaccinated travelers.

The United States government hasn't decided whether it will approve vaccine certificates for US citizens. But US President Joe Biden has issued an executive order asking multiple government agencies to "assess the feasibility" of linking coronavirus shots to international vaccination certificates and producing digital versions of them.

Biden also has said the US will have enough vaccines available for everyone in the country by May, two months ahead of his previous schedule. That could open up travel for millions of US residents.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn't issued guidance on vaccine certificates and noted that there is no international standard on vaccines or documentation of a vaccination.

"Until then, all air passengers traveling to the US, regardless of vaccination or antibody status, are required to provide a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery," CDC spokeswoman Caitlin Shockey said.

英国外交大臣多米尼克·拉布表示,疫苗证书“正在考虑中”,但包括卫生大臣马特·汉考克在内的一些英国政府官员反驳了他。以色列40%以上的人口接种了疫苗,是世界上接种率最高的国家,以色列同意与欧盟成员国希腊和塞浦路斯一起测试旅游泡沫,为接种疫苗的旅行者打开大门。美国政府尚未决定是否批准美国公民的疫苗证书。但美国总统乔·拜登(Joe Biden)发布了一项行政命令,要求多个政府机构“评估”将冠状病毒疫苗接种与国际疫苗接种证书联系起来并制作其数字版本的可行性。拜登还表示,到5月份,美国将有足够的疫苗可供全国每个人使用,比他之前的计划提前了两个月。这可能会为数百万美国居民打开旅行之门。美国疾病控制和预防中心尚未发布疫苗证书指南,并指出疫苗或疫苗接种文件没有国际标准。疾控中心发言人凯特琳·肖基说:“在此之前,所有飞往美国的乘客,无论是否接种疫苗或抗体,都必须提供阴性新冠肺炎检测结果或康复证明文件。”。

'Need to be very careful'

Mike Ryan, executive director of the Health Emergencies Programme of the World Health Organization, said on Monday that the use of certification of vaccination as a requirement for travel is not advised at the present time because vaccination is not available around the world, especially on an equitable basis. He noted that there are also people who for whatever reason cannot be vaccinated or do not wish to be vaccinated.

"So this is a very important societal discussion, that I think we need to be very careful," he said.

But Ryan praised the digital certification of vaccination itself as a positive development in public health architecture, adding that the WHO has an in-house team working on the subject.

Regarding such certification, Kate O'Brien, the WHO's director for immunization, vaccines and biologicals, said, "What we are doing is establishing the standards for those kinds of records", and establishing the technical basis "which any given app or platform would have to meet" to ensure that all those elements are in place.

Civil liberties groups have said people who don't want to get the vaccine due to religious or cultural reasons could be blocked from some aspects of daily life, while a digital-based app could penalize those who don't have a smartphone.

"I foresee vaccine passports being used as a way to further disenfranchise people," Alexis Hancock, director of engineering for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit digital rights group, told China Daily. "For example, (its) being used as a common restriction tactic on the marginalized but not as stringent for the more privileged."

世界卫生组织(World Health Organization)卫生应急计划(Health Emergencies Programme)执行主任迈克瑞安(Mike Ryan)周一表示,目前不建议将疫苗接种证书作为旅行的一项要求,因为全球各地都没有疫苗接种,尤其是在公平的基础上。他指出,也有人因为任何原因不能接种疫苗或不想接种疫苗。“所以这是一个非常重要的社会讨论,我认为我们需要非常小心,”他说。但是瑞安称赞疫苗接种的数字认证本身是公共卫生架构的积极发展,并补充说世卫组织有一个内部团队在研究这个问题。关于这种认证,世卫组织免疫、疫苗和生物制品主任凯特·奥布莱恩(Kate O'Brien)表示,“我们正在做的是为这些记录建立标准”,并建立“任何给定的应用或平台都必须满足的”技术基础,以确保所有这些要素都到位。公民自由组织表示,由于宗教或文化原因不想接种疫苗的人可能会被禁止进入日常生活的某些方面,而一个基于数字的应用程序可能会惩罚那些没有智能手机的人。“我预计疫苗护照将被用作进一步剥夺人们选举权的一种方式,”总部位于旧金山的非营利数字权利组织电子前沿基金会工程主任亚历克西斯·汉考克(Alexis Hancock)对《中国日报》表示。“例如,(它)被用作对边缘化人群的一种常见限制策略,但对特权阶层则没有那么严格。”

Risk of information leaks

Hancock said a digital vaccine "passport" with private medical data could infringe on a person's rights, especially if it will be shared digitally. "Any information shared digitally is at risk of being leaked. And without good digital privacy law internationally, this information can become easily associated with the rest of a person's data without their knowledge and informed consent."

Jane Lee, a trust and safety architect at the cybersecurity company Sift, said: "I can pretty much 100 percent guarantee that fraud is going to occur. We will have a lot of bad actors where they pretend to offer a service that will provide some sort of vaccination passport, but it's really a phishing campaign."

A coalition of health and technology companies has launched the Vaccination Credential Initiative to show proof of vaccinations. A digital pass called CommonPass is being created by The World Economic Forum, the Commons Project, the Rockefeller Foundation and 350 public and private sector leaders from 52 countries and regions. It is being tested by United Airlines.

Small-scale versions of vaccine certificates are being tested at events and among healthcare systems.

In Los Angeles County in the US, The Los Angeles Wallet pass was one of the first in the country to show digital proof of a coronavirus vaccine on a phone.

Despite the moves to develop some type of proof of vaccination against COVID-19, the WHO warned in January that it isn't known how effective the vaccines are against transmission, which could mean that those who get vaccinated could still pass the coronavirus to others. And people who have already had the virus may in the future have different vaccine requirements.

"The utility of a vaccine passport is only as good as the evidence of how long the immunity lasts," David Salisbury, an associate fellow at think tank Chatham House, told Bloomberg. "You could find yourself with a stamp in your passport that lasts longer than the antibodies in your blood."





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