Immunity Pass, health certificate, fit for travel & Co in times of Covid-19

Updated: Jun 2


In these days of COVID19, agencies, international organizations, think-tanks, hackathon - organizers and industry are in a rally to figure out how to regain a managed freedom of movement and business. Many terms for potentially suitable technologies or “documents” are circulated and debated. The impression can arise, that quick wins are justifying a jumping to conclusions. In fact, the situation is more complex, than just a technology alone. This article seeks to span a part of the complexity and offer some structured approach to the debate. It intends to offer a wireframe to quick and well-grounded reflections.




Organizations such as Capsca (capsca.org) – uniting over a dozen UN- and international agencies for the response on pandemics – are discussing three phases to be considered when developing a response:

  • The “rapid response”, deployable within 1-3 months and effective for the first year. These would be immediate measures facilitating an opening of society and business, including air travel. This is the phase, where we need to accept to know very little about the virus, lack certainty on anti-body based immunity, therapy and vaccination. It is the phase, where preventive measures using personal protection equipment (masks), hygiene measures (disinfectant, possibly UV-C) and organizational / behavioural measures (distancing, drip system, the debatable thermo-scans, Passenger Locator Forms PLC) are used. The consideration of (national) tracing (or tracking) systems could become effective.

  • The “mid-term phase” spans from year one to approximately two. It is the phase, where growing validated knowledge about the pandemic on one hand, and the learning curve on the effectiveness of technical and organizational measures on the other hand are expected to be available.

  • Finally, the third phase potentially starting in the third year since outbreak. A term often heard is “the new normal”. This term unites both the management of the except situation, while not considering it as an except situation any longer. It is both the capacity of handling the past/ongoing pandemic on one hand, and the preparedness to prevent or respond to a new outbreak of a new pandemic of whatever nature on the other hand. The Chicago Convention of 1944 was written with the strong impression the devastating Spanish flue left in society and the diseases caused by the ongoing world war. It is the cornerstone of so many guiding resolutions and materials in modern travel. Article 14 reads: “Each contracting State agrees to take effective measures to prevent the spread by means of air navigation of cholera, typhus (epidemic), smallpox, yellow fever, plague, and such other communicable diseases as the contracting States shall from time to time decide to designate”. In those days, the presence of diseases were perhaps not the main reason of concern, but the ease, speed and commercialization of international travel was to be acknowledged as “the new normal”.


How the challenge can be successfully addressed

Lack of time and lack of knowledge of details are common denominators of challenges such as Covid-19. Immediate measures are not to be mixed by activism and jumping to conclusions. However, glossy strategy papers will without doubt fail the intended objectives.

Sun Tzu says: «Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.»


Technology will be key instrumental in the solutions for the present and future. However, it is only reflected policy and processes, that will render technology a successful tool. Or as an old saying goes: “A Tool in the Hands of a Fool is just a Tool.»


Responding to the challenges faced, the authors feel it to be key to understand what the challenge is and be specific when proposing solutions. Therefore, breaking down the issue into scenarios, with defines dimensions has shown to be little time consuming, and most effective.


The dimensions of the scenarios

The following dimensions are a proposal and a starting point of structured reflections. As the scenarios are developed, there might be irrelevant or missing dimensions to be addressed.



One: What user-group are we discussing? And what is their routine? For instance: Air crews could be kept together as a static organization, limiting the spreading into and beyond the group. A safe corridor measure might even be, that the crew doesn’t leave the plane and returns with the help of a second aircrew. However, this measure will not be practical for any other type of air traveller. This example illustrates the need to be specific, and in a first step to abandon the attempt “one-solution-fits-all”. The chart below suggests some further uniquely characterized user groups to be considered.


Two: the actual case of movement needs to be considered, and with it the involved stakeholders. Who needs to be protected, who is the risk manager, how can it be monitored and enforced? Bear in mind, that managing the domestic travel, or access to public buildings can be regulated within one authorities range of competence. However, international travel has a strong requirement on interoperability and international, juridical grounds and treaties. Also the operational, legal and commercial impact of an action being taken prior, during or even after a travel needs to be considered as a factor of system reliability. Think of this scenario: A person being approved for travel by his doctor (i.e. healed COVID-Patient), but then being prevented boarding in a transit airport due to other procedures and criteria than upon departure. Perhaps the certificate is not acknowledged? Perhaps the technology for verification is missing or failed?


This leads to three, a next aspect in the scenario to be reflected. And your conclusion will very much depend on the phase described on entry of this article: What is being certified? Is it a negative test to COVID? Would it be immunity or vaccination, provided the scientific results are acknowledged by the various national health bodies and the WHO? Would it be the lack of risk exposure, recorded by an acknowledged, (interoperable) tracing app? Or perhaps other? Depending on this aspect, the validity of such a certificate will vary, and also the competent entity of issuing such a certificate.


Four: Issuing a certificate implicates the assumption of accountability, which will prove difficult when crossing jurisdictions. It will be questionable, if a health authority of country A will accept a certificate issued by a village doctor in country B, considering technology, procedures and potential corruption. The separation of certifying entity (accountability on issuance) and the risk-bearing gate keepers (accountability on acceptance) is perhaps the key piece to be resolved. This might lead to the consideration, that the certificate should not be a recommendation or conclusion bearing document. Instead, it should provide standardized risk-factor elements, allowing the gate keepers to conduct a transparent assessment and decision.


Development of Scenarios

The following table illustrates a method of how specific scenarios can be developed and evaluated. It is a collection of 9 dimensions and each is pre-populated with several exemplary options. By picking one or two options per dimension consistent scenarios can be characterized. Procedural and technical responses can be evaluated and benchmarked for plausibility, effectiveness, and feasibility.


The exemplary scenario is the international business traveller travelling by air in 2022. The objective is to assure the freedom of travel both on emigration as well as immigration. The immigrating authorities operate under the policy of prevention of granting access to any person who might have been exposed to an infection. The health authority of the country of departure is considered being the only reliable source of factors for risk assessment. Industry and policymakers could work on developing suitable response candidates. This can be the end of the story.


However, the development of related scenarios involving variations of “object of attest” and “attest issued by” could produce new and better solutions.




Boundaries

The quality of a solution depends on further factors. Besides the scenario-dimensions there are boundaries to be considered. We would like to highlight in this context is the boundary of non-discrimination. Age, technology and income can be such factors. Adopting procedures, criteria or technology prerequisites that would exclude any part of society from being free to move based on unspecific grounds would likely be not acceptable. Elderly, minors and poor people might not be able to have personal electronic devices to track motion, due to knowledge or agility. Due to lack of funds, they might not have one device per person, allowing for a family to travel. They might not have access to printers or terminals, in order to pick up a certificate.


In the course of drawing up such scenarios the availability of suitable and contributing technology as well as prerequisites can materialize. In order to identify these, the contribution of the various organizations and industry players is required, to define the options and dependencies within their specific field of expertise. Industry is standing by to respond to upcoming RFIs of governments and ICAO-NTWG. In order for the industry to provide truly targeted responses, there is a need for coordinated information on consistent scenarios and boundaries.


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Source of images

Image 1: SECOIA, with © Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Image Library (PHIL), with identification number #23312.

Images 2, 3: SECOIA Executive Consultants


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