Globally, vaccine roll-out is well on its way and is now also picking up speed in South Africa, where over 7.5m vaccines have been administered.
Now is the time, says the travel industry, to allow vaccinated individuals the freedom to travel without restrictions and to do away with the ‘traffic light’ colour-coded system of discrimination against certain countries according to a perceived idea of their COVID-19 risk.
For these regulations to change, countries like South Africa will require a digital, certified and standardised way of proving that the traveller has been vaccinated, something not yet available in South Africa.
“Leaders around the world are meeting at length to discuss the details of new travel guidelines. However, the reality should be straightforward: anyone who is vaccinated should be free to travel without additional restrictions like additional testing or quarantine. For those who are not vaccinated, or only partially vaccinated, a negative PCR test should be presented. The traffic light colour-coding of countries according to their COVID-19 risk should also be done away with,” says CEO of Asata, Otto de Vries.
De Vries says it is critical that a certified and reliable proof of vaccination is created in South Africa to allow travellers to move freely. He explains that, similar to the Digital Green Certificate recently adopted by the EU (which includes a scannable QR code), South Africans will also need access to the EVDS (electronic vaccination data system) to obtain their personal vaccination data (which is linked to their ID).
“This will allow passengers to share this information with airlines, cruise lines, port authorities and suppliers of travel services, via an approved digital vaccination certificate. The digital vaccination certificate will need to be issued according to ICAO-released VDS standards. These standards are recognised by airlines and countries signatory to the Chicago Convention, including South Africa,” says De Vries.
WHO’s latest guidance
WHO’s latest guidance also advises governments around the world that they should consider exempting vaccinated travellers from COVID-19 testing, and a recent Iata traveller survey found that 70% of respondents saw the cost of testing as a barrier to travel. Alderman James Vos, Mayoral committee member for economic opportunities and asset management (which includes tourism) at the City of Cape Town, strongly agrees with these points.
“The added expensive cost of a COVID-19 test is something that many cannot afford and it will leave travel in the hands of just a few who can afford it. And it’s not only the cost that is a deterrent, there are time constraints that add to the inconvenience of the process. Although this has improved somewhat, most (PCR results) turnaround times are still 24-72 hours. We are calling on the South African government to allow vaccinated travellers to travel to South Africa with ease and with no test requirements.”
Iata DG, Willie Walsh, also recently stated during a media briefing that a digital solution for vaccination certification was critical. He said Iata predicted that if passengers continued to use manual paper processes, the total airport experience, from check-in to departure and the arrivals process, would go from about one and a half hours to about eight hours if the volume of passengers recovered to 2019 levels.
“These delays relate to the manual vetting and authentication processes undertaken by airlines, airport staff and border security in the country of departure and arrival and are likely to create bottlenecks at international processing points,” said Walsh.
“With this in mind, Iata is encouraging governments to accept digital COVID-19 test and vaccination certificates and, by extension, the Iata Travel Pass’s ‘OK to travel’ status indicator, as verification for health entry requirements,” Iata Head of Account Management South and East Africa, Alex Stancu, told Business Insider.
Delays by Department of Health
According to Chief Commercial Officer at Discovery Health, Dr Ronald Whelan, the difficulty in providing South Africans with a digital COVID-19 vaccination card relates to delays in its approval by the South African Department of Health.
“Discovery acknowledges the clear and valid need for a digital version of the COVID-19 vaccination card, particularly for international travel purposes, but also for long-term reference and fraud prevention. Discovery has developed a solution for a digital version of the vaccination card and we are awaiting approval from the Department of Health prior to implementation. We will inform members as soon as we receive this approval,” he told Tourism Update.
He adds that the Department of Health has indicated that there is also work under way from the Department’s side to develop and implement a digital version of the vaccination card and that travellers should use the paper version of the vaccination card for visa and travel purposes for the time being.
But, says De Vries, many markets have indicated that they will not accept the paper vaccination record cards issued by vaccination centres in South Africa and that a digital certificate is required. Dr Whelan disagrees and told Tourism Update that, at this stage, most embassies were accepting the South African vaccination card for the Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines. “For the Pfizer vaccine, both doses of the vaccine need to have been completed, with some embassies requiring 14 days to have elapsed since the second dose of the vaccine was administered.”
“A public-private-sector partnership can ensure a quick and affordable roll-out of a digital vaccination certificate,” says De Vries. “What is urgently needed is for the Department of Health to open access to our vaccination data. Inter-ministerial co-operation between the Department of Tourism, Transport, Health and Home Affairs is essential, and a custodian needs to be appointed as a matter of urgency. The future is bright but we need to keep the momentum going in order to open up travel.”
Last week, Air France sent out a communication to agents advising that when their clients enter France and travel around the country, they should carry their paper vaccination certificates and keep them available constantly. (NB: only vaccinated South Africans may enter.)
But only yesterday (August 10) this was superseded by instructions from the French Tourist office, Atout France, on a new process by which visitors from outside the EU can get a ‘pass sanitaire’. See the article today in Tourism Update’s sister publication, Travel News, entitled: French ‘pass sanitaire’ – how to get one.
On August 1, France rolled out the ‘pass sanitaire’ health pass, proof that the holder has been vaccinated with one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines, and granting the holder permission to enter museums, concerts, sporting events and even cafés.