The trial of app-based Covid-19 ‘health passport’ CommonPass is due to go ahead at Heathrow this week, following an initial test on a Hong Kong-Singapore flight.
Volunteers among the passengers on a United Airlines flight from Heathrow to New York Newark will take a Covid-19 test up to 72 hours before travelling and log the results on the CommonPass app on their phones.
The app generates a QR code which can be scanned by airline and border staff.
CommonPass was developed by Swiss-based, non-profit organisation the Commons Project and is backed by the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Meanwhile, UKinbound, which represents 100 tour operators, and Avanti Destinations, one of the biggest tour firms in the US, have urged Boris Johnson to introduce pre-departure testing to replace full quarantine.
This could see travel and tourism in 2021 return to 50% of 2019 levels, they claim.
US travellers would switch to other European countries that already have testing regimes for arrivals if the UK delayed, they warned.
Launched on October 7, the CommonPass aims to develop a global framework for verifying travellers’ health data against destination countries’ entry requirements.
Travellers take a Covid-19 test at a certified lab, upload the results to their phone and complete any additional health screening questionnaire required by the destination country.
The first trial took place earlier this month on a Cathay Pacific flight between Hong Kong and Singapore Changi.
Authorities in Hong Kong and Singapore subsequently announced an agreement in principle on setting up an ‘Air Travel Bubble’ between the two cities on October 15. Details have yet to be worked out.
The tests at Heathrow will be administered by travel and medical services firm Collinson in testing facilities set up with ground-handler Swissport. The lab tests will be carried out by testing company Prenetics.
Collinson joint chief executive David Evans said: “The ability to demonstrate the validity of testing upon arrival or before departure is key to reopening borders.”
Officials from US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were set to observe the United Airlines flight test at Heathrow, which was originally due to take place last week.
Steve Morrissey, United regulatory and policy vice president, said: “Trials with solutions like CommonPass are critical to demonstrate the potential for testing as an alternative to blanket quarantine measures or travel restrictions.”
Heathrow process improvement director Mark Burgess added: “Heathrow has been calling for the creation of a common international standard. Cross-border pilots such as these could help unlock the benefits of testing in aviation.
“We’re looking forward to reviewing the findings of these trials.”
The trials will be extended over coming months with deployment planned from early 2021.
Collinson noted: “At present, Covid-19 test results are frequently shared on printed paper from unknown labs, often in languages foreign to those inspecting them. There is no standard format or certification system.”
Dr Bradley Perkins, Commons Project chief medical officer, said: “Without the ability to trust Covid-19 tests across international borders, many countries will feel compelled to retain full travel bans and mandatory quarantines.
“The goal of the pilots is to demonstrate to governments they can rely on CommonPass as a health data trust framework.”
The WEF said in a statement: “CommonPass aims to develop a standard global model to enable: people to document and present their Covid-19 status (either as test results or an eventual vaccination status) to facilitate international travel and border crossing.
“It serves as a neutral platform which creates the interoperability needed for various ‘travel bubbles’ to connect and for countries to trust one another’s data.”
The WEF said the trials would address questions including: can a lab result from another country be trusted? Is the lab accredited? Is the person who took the test the person travelling? Does a traveller meet a country’s border entry requirements?
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