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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Singapore opens up international travel with digital apps

Covid-19 vaccines are proving to be incredibly effective in their goals of not only stopping cases, but spread too, and many countries including Singapore are eager to bring back travel and the vital things which come with it, like business and economic opportunity for locals.

Sadly, fake test results and vaccination certificates bring the greatest risk to any opening measures in the short term. Singapore, as a nation that depends greatly on business, transit and visitors is eager to get past that hurdle and hopes a trial of the IATA Travel Pass will provide the data to reopen international travel.

Reports of vaccination fraud and covid-19 testing fraud are more than just overstatement. They’re real concern, with many real-world data points of people being caught, and a worrying number that hasn’t. It is making it hard for countries to open.

As it stands, test results for travel are rudimentary PDF’s with few fail safes. You get a result, you download it, it says “this person has tested negative for covid-19 using this test on this date”, and in the best case there is a digital stamp which looks official and has contact details. It is all too easy for people to create their own, without testing.

Apps such as CommonPass, VeriFLY and IATA’s Travel Pass hope to change that, with results uploaded directly to the app from verified labs, creating a tamper-proof seal to any reported results. You cannot just share a PDF and say it’s real, and the app provides a verifiable QR code to airlines and immigration officials showing that you’re “fit to fly” once, and only once all requirements are fulfilled.

Singapore is set to begin a trial of the IATA Travel Pass, in hopes of squaring the app’s verified results with their own testing data to get a ballpark figure on risks for travellers known to be carrying genuine vaccination certificates or negative covid-19 test results.

With these travel passes, results are more trusted, which allows nations like Singapore greater peace of mind that the health status a traveller claims, is genuine. If vaccination status is not just believed to be real, but rather “known” to be real, it’s easier to resume travel as it was, just over a year ago.

Singapore’s Transport Minister, Ong Ye Kung also noted in parliament that the country is actively looking into mutual recognition agreements for vaccination certificates with other countries, according to Bloomberg.

For now, Singapore will rely on its newly built, huge business transit centre, which allows people to fly in and stay safe behind the glass to conduct essential business. Even rooms have been designed with safety measures for contactless food delivery. It’s a far cry from experiencing the joys of Singapore’s street food stalls firsthand, but it’s something.

The fact that Singapore will trial the IATA Travel Pass to verify results and monitor the impact of inbound visitors is promising but by no means indicative of an imminent reopening. Singapore hopes to establish testing regimes to replace quarantine with regional partners in the short term, including Australia and Hong Kong.

Singapore says it hopes to have all adults fully vaccinated by the end of 2021, and 45’s by summer and with the possible travel bubble that is being worked out with Australia, there is a glimmer of hope for us to go and eat a bowl of laksa or some chicken rice in this stunning Southeast Asian destination very soon, but probably only if you have been fully vaccinated or test negative to Covid and can digitally prove it.

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