COVID-19 immunity passport proposals get DOT support

Published December 11, 2020, 7:02 PM

by Hanah Tabios

The Department of Tourism (DOT) is backing proposals for a COVID-19 immunity passport to spur the recovery of the hardest hit sector. 

“The proposals for a COVID-19 passport is welcome and will be looked into by the DOT, together with the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), as it will involve medical data on the vaccines and diplomatic agreements with other countries,” Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said in a statement. 

“The Department of Tourism supports initiatives to facilitate international cross border travel with stringent health and safety measures in place,” she added, citing the said passport is vital to reviving international travel as it will restore the trust and confidence of people to travel to other countries once more while assuring receiving countries that their inbound tourists are vaccinated.

Tourism stakeholders also welcomed the initiative, saying that it can help streamline entry procedures in tourism destinations. 

“Having that information ready, especially with regard to having been vaccinated, can eliminate some of the processes we now have like testing or quarantines upon arrival. That said, we also hope that it is a standardized document regardless of what country the traveller comes from. We also hope that the passport will come up with security features that can safeguard against counterfeiting or duplication,” TCP president Jose Clemente III told the Manila Bulletin. 

Last month, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that it is working on launching the IATA Travel Pass, a digital platform for passengers.

The global aviation body described the platform as “a global and standardized solution to validate and authenticate all country regulations regarding COVID-19 passenger travel requirements.”

“Informing passengers on what tests, vaccines and other measures they require prior to travel, details on where they can get tested and giving them the ability to share their tests and vaccination results in a verifiable, safe and privacy-protecting manner is the key to giving governments the confidence to open borders,” it said. 

Among the reasons cited by IATA which prevent people from traveling in the new normal are the complexity and variety of COVID-19 testing requirements, information gap, as well as inefficiencies, errors and fraud among check-in agents. 

The lack of travel then led to several business shutdowns, laying off millions of tourism workers, including airline employees. 

With this, budget carrier Cebu Pacific (CEB) president and chief executive officer Lance Gokongwei earlier said he believes a COVID-19 immunity passport is essential, especially when the country’s international border would open up for foreign visitors.

“If the tourism and travel industry recover, this is an absolute necessity,” he said. “Unless we resolve the confidence issue and the safety issue, which can only happen with herd immunity and vaccines, then there is nothing to be spoken about.”

“Connect this to a COVID passport so that countries would trust when we say that a passenger has already achieved the levels of antibodies so he would not be infectious to anyone,” he added. 

As international travel remains restricted, foreign visitor arrivals in the country plunged at 82.4 percent to 1.3 million from January to November this year compared to the 7.4 million arrivals in the same period last year, according to DOT Undersecretary and Spokesperson Benito Bengzon Jr. 

But according to the recent Travel Restrictions Report of the United Nations World Tourism Organization, 152 destinations or around 70 percent of the global destinations have now eased restrictions on international tourism out of the 217 destinations worldwide that are being monitored. 

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said in a statement that the lifting of travel restrictions is essential to drive the sector’s wider recovery from the social and economic impacts of the pandemic.