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Way forward! International flight uses ‘Covid passport’ app

October 23, 2020 Headline News No Comments

The first international flight using the CommonPass digital health system, which can rapidly verify passengers’ Covid-19 status before boarding, has touched down in the US, drawing a warm welcome from the US Travel Association.

The flight trial comes amid indications that the production and deployment of any vaccine may take years. Pre-flight testing is seen as the way forward.

United Airlines flight UA15 from London Heathrow to Newark yesterday carried volunteers and organisers using the CommonPass app, sometimes called the “Coronavirus Passport”. CommonPass is a global, interoperable framework aimed at safely restoring cross-border travel to pre-pandemic levels. It uses QR codes with built-in safeguards to ensure reliable and fraud-proof verification.

The idea is to verify that passengers do not have the virus, before they board the plane.

You can watch a four-minute video explainer of CommonPass by clicking here. The system is backed by the Swiss-based World Economic Forum.

Yesterday’s flight was the first transatlantic test of CommonPass and the second globally. The technology was first tested by Cathay Pacific on a flight between Hong Kong and Singapore.

“I’m happy to report a very successful trial,” Paul Meyer, chief executive of The Commons Project, told reporters after UA15 landed in Newark. Meyer’s comment was carried by well-known US online publication The Points Guy.

After the flight landed, US Travel Association president and chief executive Roger Dow confirmed that “the US and global economies simply cannot afford to wait for a widely distributed Covid vaccine for international travel to resume – so innovative technologies and the embrace of best health practices need to provide the way forward”.

Rapid Covid testing at San Francisco International Airport. Photo: United Airlines

“A rapid and secure means of verifying travellers’ Covid status is an important component of that, so we’re excited about the advancement of CommonPass,” Dow said.

“Developing processes to quickly approve and implement these kinds of beneficial technologies will be particularly vital, so we are grateful to the CDC [US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and Customs and Border Protection for observing these trials.”

Dow continued: “System-wide flexibility to safely improve the overall travel process can help navigate out of the crippling economic fallout of Covid-related travel restrictions and quarantine requirements, and can hopefully pay further dividends for more seamless and convenient travel even once the pandemic has subsided.”

The importance of pre-flight testing and verification of Covid-free status has been heightened following indications that developing and rolling out any vaccine could take a long time.

“Eliminating the virus across much of the world, while not unthinkable, could take a significant number of years,” Kingston Mills, Professor of Experimental Immunology at Trinity College Dublin said this week.

A vaccine would “need to be produced in sufficient quantities to vaccinate over 7 billion people, which will take time”.

Mills pointed out that AstraZeneca – which is developing one of the leading vaccines – has deals in place to produce 2 billion doses by the end of 2021.

“Making enough for the whole world could take years,” he reiterated. “Polio was only deemed to have been eradicated in Africa this year – over 60 years after vaccines became available.”

Mills added: “The last natural smallpox case was in 1977, 10 years after the World Health Organization launched a global eradication program for that disease, and nearly 200 years after the first smallpox vaccine was developed.”

United Airlines is at the forefront of world aviation attempts to speed up the air travel process in the era of Covid-19 while ensuring travel is safe for customers and for everyone else involved.

It might take some time to eliminate Covid-19 from the world, but in the meantime, let’s eliminate it from the flight.

Last week, travellers on a United flight from San Francisco International Airport to Hawaii became the first to experience the airline’s initial Covid-19 testing program, which lets customers who return a negative result bypass Hawaii’s mandatory quarantine requirements and enjoy their time on the islands sooner.

In collaboration with San Francisco International Airport, United customers now have the option to take a same-day, pre-flight rapid test at the airport or a conveniently located drive-through test at United’s San Francisco Maintenance Centre ahead of their trip. United has been approved by the Hawaii Department of Health as a trusted testing and travel partner and was the first US carrier to announce its plans to make Covid-19 tests available to customers.

United, working alongside San Francisco International Airport, will make two tests available to customers travelling to Hawaii: a rapid test option taken at the airport on the day of travel or a drive-through test conducted at the airport 48-72 hours before departure.

Travellers who produce a negative test result through either option will be exempt from quarantine requirements in Lihue, Maui and Honolulu. Customers traveling to Kona will be required to take a second complimentary test when they arrive to the island to avoid quarantining.

The rapid Abbott ID NOW Covid-19 test – administered by GoHealth Urgent Care and their partner Dignity Health – is available at an onsite testing facility located in SFO’s international terminal prior to security. Customers based in San Francisco can schedule their visits online and will receive their results in approximately 15 minutes.

“There’s no doubt that Covid-19 has changed the travel experience, and United is committed to innovating to help customers continue to travel where they want to go in a way that is safe,” said Toby Enqvist, chief customer officer at United.

“In partnership with the San Francisco Airport, we look forward to helping re-open the Hawaiian economy, and look forward to making testing options more broadly available to our customers so we can continue to connect people and unite the world.”

Written by Peter Needham

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