Travel after coronavirus: Are ‘immunity passports’ the key to future holidays?

As the UK pushes on through its fourth week in an unprecedented lockdown to attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus, mass economic devastation is just another byproduct of the pandemic. The travel sector is one of the worst-hit industries, with airlines and tour operators having to cancel planned itineraries for the coming months.


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For would-be holidaymakers, this means the desperate battle for refunds – some of which are taking longer than expected.

Despite the chaos and turmoil, though, many Britons remain eager to jet off on holiday as soon as the government will allow.

Many travellers are even accepting vouchers for future travel or rebooking holidays for later in the year, rather than accepting a cash refund.

However, with no vaccine yet approved and no sure way to squash the virus for good, experts are trying to figure out new ways to reignite international travel without allowing the pandemic to reemerge.

One suggestion currently on the table is COVID-free health documents, dubbed an “immunity passport.”

These documents would require holidaymakers to prove they were not infected with the virus and would allow border controls and international authorities to monitor who is leaving and entering the countries.

The documents would also require travellers to be tested for antibodies, to prove whether or not they had already had the illness.

Though there is some speculation, it is likely that those who have already carried the virus could have built up natural immunity.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock previously explained on Question Time: “When the science is good enough to understand the immunity that people have after having had the disease, then we are looking at introducing something like an immunity certificate or maybe a wristband that says ‘I’ve had it and I’m immune and I can’t pass it on and I’m highly unlikely to catch it’.”

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While in the UK the government is waiting on further scientific evidence, countries such as Chile are pushing ahead with the development of these immunity passports to help ease lockdown restrictions within the country.

“There clearly is an urgent need to get people back to functioning, and if it’s the case that a number of people who would be safe then we need to take that really seriously,” Robert West, a professor of health psychology at University College London told Wired.

However, others argue that these passports, whether to be used on a national level or to allow for international travel, could cause resentment amongst society.


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Also speaking to Wired, Adam Oliver, a behavioural economist at the London School of Economics, added: “The whole approach might also undermine the message that we are all in this together, which is crucial if we are going to get through this relatively quickly.”

Despite this, some countries in the EU are calling for the implementation of these passports to help restart tourism – particularly amongst those countries whose economy relies heavily on international visitors.

Euro News Weekly reports that The Madrid Association of Hoteliers (AEHM) are researching a ’Covid-19 Free Hotel’ certification, which would guarantee both guests and staff don’t have the virus.

Guests would likely have to prove their immunity or health in order to secure a stay.

Meanwhile, Greek Minister for Transport Harry Theoharis spoke on Tuesday to local television SKAI TV and suggested that such passports could be part of the plan to help restart the peak holiday season while ensuring maximum safety.

“We expect tourists from Europe and in this context, our country has an advantage, as out of all Mediterranean regions we are the safest,” Mr Theoharis said.

“Tour operators are waiting to be informed on the health rules that hotels will follow so that we can build trust with our visitors on the one hand and on the other hand to announce a clear timetable for when exactly our seasonal hotels will be in operation.

“Once a timetable for the gradual lifting of restrictions is agreed on, we will agree with EODY when exactly the hotels may operate.”

The science behind these passports, however, remains uncertain.

There are some concerns about sensitivity, detecting other viral infections as coronavirus by mistake, or the worrying consequences of misidentifying people.

For now, the future of travel remains in the unknown.

As Chief Medial Officer Chris Whitty told the press on Wednesday night: “This disease is not going to be eradicated, it is not going to disappear.

“So we have to accept that we are working with a disease that we are going to be with globally for the foreseeable future.”

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