1 Digitally Verifiable COVID-19 Certificates:
Governments should issue COVID-19 certificates for testing and vaccination with a machine readable QR code,following one of the four major international standards (from either the EU Digital COVID Certificate (DCC), ICAO Visible Digital Seal (VDS-NC), DIVOC or SMART Health Cards). This will reduce the number of digital certificate ‘formats’ from a currently vast number, to a manageable level of four certificate formats in the near term and governments are encouraged to accept for international travel all vaccines that have received WHO Emergency Use Listing (EUL)25. In the medium-to-longer term governments are encouraged to work towards a single global standard that can be used for the digital certification of all vaccines, regardless of the disease. As recommended by the WHO, ICAO and the EU, governments are also encouraged to establish Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), to enable COVID-19 digital certificates to be digitally verifiable. This may leverage existing Public Key Infrastructure used within countries for managing the authenticity of ePassports.
2 Digital Travel Portal:
As referenced at the ICAO High Level Conference on COVID-19 (HLCC) countries are encouraged to swiftly implement a government Digital Travel Portal that allows travellers to electronically share their contact tracing information and digital COVID-19 certificates before their journey with the government of their destination and where appropriate receive an automated ‘authority to travel’ if their information is digitally verified and they meet all of the entry requirements. This is a similar model to the granting of eVisas, or electronic Travel Authorisations (eTAs).
Where countries have already implemented online contact tracing portals, this simply extends their functionality by allowing travellers to also electronically present their COVID-19 certificates and have them digitally verified in real time. For countries that have not yet established an online system for capturing contact tracing information, this allows a single integrated system to be implemented that digitally captures and verifies all of the travellers contact tracing and COVID-19 information in one convenient place.
The Digital Travel Portal could also provide information for travellers on public health and social measures (PHSM) in place in the destination country and how travellers could access health care if they become ill, as well as any other relevant COVID-19 or risk management information.
3 Digital Connections (between government & industry):
Governments should store an electronic record of a travellers ‘authority to travel’ from the Digital Travel Portal in their national immigration system (or other similar system), respecting all data protection and privacy laws, noting that a traveller is arriving in the next few days and if they have successfully met all of the contact tracing and COVID-19 status entry requirements. To make the best use of pre-travel approvals, governments should also introduce digital connections that enable travel operators to electronically inform a destination government during the check-in process of a travellers confirmed intention to travel and receive a near instantaneous ‘authority to board’ response.
As noted at the ICAO High Level Conference on COVID-19 it is recommended this digital connection exploits the use of existing ‘Interactive Advance Passenger Information’ (iAPI) systems, where Travel Operators already transmit a travellers passport information to a destination government during check-in and receive an ‘authority to board’ message back if the traveller does not pose a known security threat.
Where these iAPI systems are already in use between governments and travel operators for border security purposes, it is recommended this capability is extended to include within the ‘authority to board’ response back to the travel operator if a passenger has also met all of the COVID-19 entry requirements. As the COVID-19 certificate and contact tracing information has already been received by the destination government through the national Digital Travel Portal, no health information is transmitted via the iAPI system (only the travellers passport details required for travel are transmitted) and this does not require any changes to the existing iAPI technical standard. The only change required for governments with existing iAPI systems would be to digitally examine their national immigration system (or other similar system), alongside existing traveller security checks, to determine if the traveller has met all of the COVID-19 entry requirements that were submitted by the traveller to the Digital Travel Portal. Where iAPI system are not currently in use, governments are encouraged to implement iAPI digital connections to provide combined COVID-19, border and transport security benefits. Guidance on introducing iAPI systems is available from IATA36 and several commercial organisations. If required, governments should also review their national legislation to ensure that information collected from travel operators and transmitted through iAPI systems can also be used for confirmation of COVID-19 health checks, as well as for existing border security purposes.
4 Digitally Verifiable Travel Authorisation Certificates:
Following a traveller submission to the Digital Travel Portal, governments should issue a Travel Authorisation Certificate (TAC) to the traveller with a machine readable QR code that follows the same digital security principles as COVID-19 status certificates, so they can be digitally verifiable. Travel Authorisation Certificates allow travellers to maintain their own record of their ‘authority to travel’ and can be used by travel operators to confirm a travellers eligibility to travel if digital connections between the government and travel operator are not yet available. This is an additional, undesirable step in the travel process, which could cause long queues and travel disruption at full capacity, but whilst travel volumes are low, or digital connections are being implemented, this enables a pragmatic, practical solution to confirming a travellers ‘authority to travel’. By following the recommendations in this report, any individual, in any country, should therefore have one of two ‘types’ of COVID status document – a local (or regionally) issued Digital COVID-19 Certificate if they are a national or resident of the country [from recommendation 1], or a Travel Authorisation Certificate (TAC) if they are a visitor to the country [from recommendation 4]. It is therefore suggested that TAC’s could also be used to confirm an individual’s eligibility to enter domestic venues, such as a tourism attraction or café, where governments require proof of COVID-19 status to enter locations, as their COVID-19 status has already been digitally verified by the destination government. In this way domestic venues (such as bars, restaurants or tourism attractions) only need to be able to verify two types of COVID-19 documents – COVID-19 Status Certificates (used by nationals and residents) and Travel Authorisation Certificates (issued to all overseas visitors).
Through these four digital recommendations, global interoperability is not only achieved for cross border international travel, but also for entry to domestic venues and tourism attractions (where proof of COVID-19 status is required). To achieve international consistency of Travel Authorisation Certificates (TAC), governments are encouraged to urge international organisations such as ICAO and the EU, to swiftly define a common specification for Travel Authorisation Certificates.
By adopting these four technical recommendations countries will be able to meet the international recommendations and commitments established through the WHO, ICAO, G7, G20 and OECD and deliver a globally interoperable digital solution for COVID-19 health checks of travellers that is effective and delivers safe and efficient international travel, with the revival of global economies and millions of livelihoods.
The following four policy recommendations ensure that the digital systems developed are accessible to all travellers and there is trust and confidence in the digital solutions, with lessons learned and opportunities captured to mitigate future health risks at the border.
1 Develop a policy to manage fraud:
Digitally verifiable COVID-19 certificates will significantly reduce opportunities for criminal cases of fraud, but governments are still encouraged to implement a policy to identify and manage fraud of COVID-19 certificates to ensure consistent trust in the system of digital COVID-19 health checks. Formulation of a fraud policy could include a review of existing laws and regulations, mechanisms for revocation of fraudulent certificates, assignment of roles and responsibilities to identify, investigate and pursue prosecutions, establishment of an investigation process and determination of the procedures for identified cases of fraud to be shared promptly with other authorities. Governments are also encouraged to consider how internationally co-ordinated oversight of COVID-19 status certificate fraud may be established through their membership of relevant international organisations.
2 Develop a policy and government accountable owner for digitally accessible travel:
Governments are encouraged to develop a policy for digitally accessible travel, including the assignment of a government role to act as an ‘accessible travel champion’ and consider compliance with the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines [WGAC] for Digital Content Accessibility38 (for example to ensure smartphone applications with digital COVID-19 certificates are digitally accessible to all travellers).
3 Advance digital government services and digital healthcare systems:
Governments are encouraged to develop national strategies for digital healthcare systems and digital government services, integrated with the travel process to enhance the mitigation of future health risks at the border. Practical guidance is available from international organisations such as the WHO26, 27 that offers a process for countries to develop a costed implementation plan for digital healthcare systems and recommendations on digital interventions for strengthening health systems, or the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD]28 who offer recommendations for the development and implementation of digital government strategies.
4 Establish a monitoring capability to identify, capture and share implementation lessons learned:
Governments (and the private sector) are encouraged to implement monitoring approaches such as data analytics, benchmarking and passenger surveys to capture and share digital solution implementation and operational lessons learned. These should be shared widely between Travel & Tourism stakeholders, so that global developments and best practices may be identified and so the sector is able to continuously improve and rapidly adapt to changing circumstances and risks.
By adopting these four policy recommendations countries will be able to learn from others around the world and capitalise on digital investments to successfully mitigate and manage current and future health risks at the border.