Nguyen Dang Tung

Vaccine passports are expected to ease the global economic impact of Covid-19, like a plane flying safely out of turbulence.

More than 20 countries and dozens of airlines have started to adopt vaccine passports as a way to reopen the skies and reactivate tourism, while stopping the spread of Covid-19. Their eagerness to do so is understandable since the pandemic has resulted in one of the worst years in the history of the tourism industry.

"Vaccine Passport"

The World Tourism and Travel Council’s Annual Economic Impact Report shows a USD 4,500 billion deficit in the smokeless industry, causing its contribution to global GDP to shrink by 49.1%. This is over ten times the decline experienced by the global economy, which is 3.7%.

There are currently multiple types of “vaccine passports”, including the European Commission’s Green Pass, the World Economic Forum’s Common Pass, the International Air Transport Association’s IATA Travel Pass, and the Digital Health Pass developed by IBM (USA). In addition, many airlines and countries have also developed their own document regulations. For example, American Airlines developed its own VeriFLY application, while a group of countries including Israel, Greece, Cyprus, and the Seychelles have introduced separate regulations to accept each other’s vaccine passports.

Several reports on the causes of the Covid-19 outbreak indicate that easy international travel was a significant contributor to this global pandemic. Unfortunately, this very factor is also key to reviving the world economy. Vaccine passports are expected to be the solution for safe travel. However, the problem seems far more complicated than people might think.

Many questions remain

First of all, an individual’s vaccine passport only means this person has been vaccinated or has had a negative test result. It does not guarantee that this person is not carrying the Covid-19 virus and is unable to transmit this virus to others.

Can certificates really prove passengers are virus-free?

Furthermore, for vaccine passports to effectively facilitate trade and tourism, their validity must be approved by destination countries. In fact, different countries have different responses to Covid-19. For example, if the holder of a vaccine passport has been vaccinated with a vaccine that has not been approved by the destination country, his/her vaccine passport will certainly be invalid there. The US has not approved the vaccine made by Russia, while Vietnam has only licensed three vaccines, namely those from Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca. Disagreements on technical aspects mean bilateral or multilateral agreements may take months or even years to finalize and roll out.

In addition, the New York Times reported the widespread sale of fake Covid-19 vaccination certificates on the Internet, while the New York Post also found dozens of online instructions on how to print a “vaccination certificate” at home. The situation was so serious that many attorney generals in the US have asked technology giants to act “immediately”.

Vaccine passports will help to reduce congestion at airports

Given that reality, it won’t be easy for countries to reach bilateral or multilateral agreements on adopting vaccine passports and reopening the sky, although this is exactly what they all want to achieve.

Vietnam’s plans

With its tourism industry seeing a deficit of tens of billions of US dollars in 2020, Vietnam is very interested in vaccine passports. At the regular cabinet meeting held in March, the Prime Minister asked ministries and agencies to examine the possibility of reopening international routes and prepare plans to apply “vaccine passports” and controlled trade. About a week later, the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam submitted a plan to reopen international flights.

Under this plan, the reopening of the sky would take place in three stages. Phase 1 will restore “package” flights for Vietnamese citizens. Vietnamese airlines and travel companies will coordinate with diplomatic and local authorities to arrange quarantine at hotels and organize flights after obtaining approvals from competent agencies. The cost of these travel packages will be a lump sum to cover air fare, Covid-19 testing, quarantine hotel stays, meals for 14 days, car transfers to the hotel, and so on. This phase is to be deployed immediately, concurrently with citizen “rescue” flights organized by the Government.

Though doubts remain, vaccine passports are the best solution for safe travel to date

Phase 2, expected to be launched from July 2021, would operate regular flights carrying Vietnamese nationals and foreigners into Vietnam. Quarantine would be required after entry but passengers would not be required to hold a Covid-19 testing certificate. Such flights would be operated simultaneously with package flights carrying Vietnamese citizens back home. This phase would start with flights between Vietnam and Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, with a frequency of four flights per week each way for each country.

Phase 3, expected to start from September 2021, would operate regular flights to Vietnam without requiring post-entry quarantine, after a “vaccine passport” mechanism is already in place: Concentrated quarantine would be waived for passengers certified negative for SARS-CoV-2 using Real-time PCR testing done within three to five days before entering Vietnam and holding an international immunization certificate approved by a vaccination facility endorsed by the Government or under the World Health Organization (WHO) system of vaccination facilities. This would apply to the COVID-19 vaccines approved by Vietnam for use within the territory of Vietnam.

These flights would operate to and from countries and territories that accept the same vaccines that Vietnam has approved for use in Vietnam. The initial frequency would be seven flights per week each way for each party’s airlines.

At the April 9th afternoon meeting of the National Steering Committee for Covid-19 Control, representatives of information technology companies said they had, as committed, properly implemented technological infrastructure systems and solutions that ensure full compatibility with international practices to prepare for the deployment of “vaccine passports”. The meeting also proposed that three groups be eligible for vaccine passports: overseas Vietnamese or Vietnamese business people wishing to go abroad to seek investment opportunities; foreign experts and investors coming to Vietnam for work; and international tourists coming from countries that have properly controlled the pandemic, carried out vaccination programs, and achieved community immunity.