China issues ‘world first’ Covid vaccine passport - and plans to accept passes from other countries

Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 11:50 am
Updated Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 11:53 am
Passengers scan a health code which reveals their vaccination status and Covid test results (Photo: Getty Images)
Passengers scan a health code which reveals their vaccination status and Covid test results (Photo: Getty Images)

China has issued what is thought to be the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine passport, which will allow residents to enter and leave the country.

The Chinese health passports include information on a person’s vaccination status, as well as recent coronavirus test results.

Boost to international travel

The passports are available for Chinese citizens to download on social media platform WeChat, and can be used by travellers to enter and leave the country.

They are being hailed as the world’s virus passports, although similar schemes are being planned in the UK, US and in Europe.

China hopes that the passports, which also show antibody test results, will be recognised by other countries and allow international travel to resume.

It has not yet been confirmed which countries will accept the QR code based digital health certificate, but Beijing is planning to accept such certificates being used by passengers from other countries.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman in China said the passports will help to “promote world economic recovery and facilitate cross-border travel”.

Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said: "The pandemic is still with us, but the world economy needs to be restarted and people-to-people exchanges resumed with no more delays."

So far, only 3.65 per cent of China’s population have been vaccinated against coronavirus, but the country has approved 17 vaccines for clinical trials. Seven of these are not in phase three of the trial process.

Passport app for flights

The news comes as the International Air Travel Association (IATA), which represents 290 airlines, is due to launch a Covid passport app which allows immigration authorities to share travellers’ coronavirus vaccination data.

The app is to be used on routes between London and Singapore from 15 March, with plans for up to 30 more airlines to roll it out over the next two months.

The app will store evidence of a negative Covid-19 test as well as proof of a coronavirus vaccination, giving hope that summer holidays could be possible this year.Nick Careen, the industry trade body’s senior vice president for airport passenger cargo and security, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “quite a few” governments have already shown an interest in the app.

Mr Careen said that UK passengers would likely be able to use paper records as proof of vaccination, or may need to upload digital evidence to the app.

In the UK, Cabinet Minister Michael Gove has been tasked with leading a review into the potential use of Covid vaccine passports as part of the road map to easing lockdown.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that a study into the use of vaccine and testing certificates will be one of four reviews conducted as part of easing the current restrictions, and said that the use of vaccine passports for international travel was more than likely.

Some other countries around the world have already started working towards introducing these kinds of measures, with the European Commission announcing on 1 March that it will be submitting a proposal for digital Covid vaccinations to be implemented across the EU.

The Digital Green Pass will provide proof that a person has received a coronavirus jab, alongside test results for those who have not received a vaccine.

In Estonia, the UN’s WHO health agency is working to implement an e-vaccination certificate, also known as a “smart yellow card”, while Denmark is also developing a digital vaccine passport.

Professor Devi Sridhar of Edinburgh University spoke to the Scottish Parliament’s Health Committee about international travel regulations during the pandemic and said that if Covid-19 vaccines significantly reduced transmission of the disease, electronic vaccine passports could help to restart international tourism.

She added that EU countries are already developing plans for a digital green pass, with countries including Spain and Greece keen to welcome visitors again, and said airlines have also collaborated to create an application called CommonPass, which allows passengers to upload medical information, such as test results or vaccination status, and generates a pass in the form of a QR code.

Prof Sridhar said: “I think if these vaccines stop transmission, which they look like they might, we will reach a stage of vaccine passports.

“It’s already being discussed in the EU. We already have countries like Israel introducing green cards domestically, if you actually have gotten vaccinated.

“I think similar to yellow fever, where the WHO has certification if you’ve been vaccinated, we will reach a state where aviation will continue.

“Spain and Greece are really keen on this for their tourism industries.

“You will be allowed to fly and we can have international mobility, but only when people are vaccinated and we have that confirmation that you will not infect others when you travel.”

However, Mr Johnson added that there are “deep and complex issues” that need to be explored before introducing vaccine passports, and the subject is still under review.