Cathay Pacific testing digital health pass

CommonPass should enable safer airline and cross-border travel by giving both travellers and governments confidence in each traveller's verified COVID-19 status

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Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific has, like airlines around the world, been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

Use this oneCathay Pacific Airways and United Airlines will this week begin testing a digital health pass for travellers to securely document their certified COVID-19 test status while keeping their health data private. The pass is being developed and backed by the Commons Project Foundation and the World Economic Forum and is called CommonPass.

Airlines around the world have had to ground thousands of planes as the COVID-19 pandemic has virtually shut down international aviation. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

CommonPass is built on the CommonPass Framework that establishes standard methods for lab results and vaccination records to be certified and enables governments to set and verify their own health criteria for travellers. The tests will be run with select volunteers on flights between London, New York, Hong Kong and Singapore, with government authorities observing. Deployments are planned with additional airlines and routes across Asia, Africa, the Americas, Europe and the Middle East in quick succession.

To use CommonPass, travellers take a COVID-19 test at a certified lab and upload the results to their mobile phone. They then complete any additional health screening questionnaires required by the destination country. With test results and questionnaire complete, CommonPass confirms a traveller’s compliance with the destination country entry requirements and generates a QR code. That code can be scanned by airline staff and border officials. A QR code can be printed for users without mobile devices.

The purpose of CommonPass and the CommonPass Framework is to enable safer airline and cross-border travel by giving both travellers and governments confidence in each traveller’s verified COVID-19 status. At present, COVID-19 test results for travel are frequently shared on printed paper – or photos of the paper – from unknown labs, often written in languages foreign to those inspecting them. There is no standard format or certification system.

“Without the ability to trust COVID-19 tests – and eventually vaccine records – across international borders, many countries will feel compelled to retain full travel bans and mandatory quarantines for as long as the pandemic persists,” said Dr. Bradley Perkins, chief medical officer of The Commons Project and former chief strategy and innovation officer at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “With trusted individual health data, countries can implement more nuanced health screening requirements for entry.” Perkins added that the ability to share health information in a verifiable, safe and privacy protecting manner is key to opening borders, whether travelling by land or air.

Some airlines are already testing passengers for COVID-19 before they even check in for their flights. (PHOTO: Emirates)

CommonPass and the CommonPass Framework are being launched by the World Economic Forum and The Commons Project, a Swiss-based non-profit foundation building global digital services and platforms for the common good, in collaboration with a broad coalition of public and private partners around the world, including government representatives from 37 countries across six continents. The goal of the trials is to replicate the full traveller experience of taking a test for COVID-19 prior to departure, uploading the result to their phones, and demonstrating their compliance with entry requirements at their departure and destination airports.

In January and February, Changi Airport in Singapore was full of passengers. Now a lone student waits to say goodbye to a friend in a nearly deserted departure hall. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

For Cathay Pacific Airways, the first internal trial is planned for a flight between Hong Kong International Airport and Singapore Changi International Airport, using rapid testing technology provided by Prenetics. Volunteers undertaking the trials with Cathay Pacific Airways and United Airlines will adhere to all entry and testing rules, adding the additional action of uploading information from their testing before departure into CommonPass. Following these trials, the CommonPass rollout will expand to additional airlines and routes across Asia, Africa, the Americas, Europe and the Middle East in quick succession.

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