By Dan Richards
The science bringing COVID-19 treatments and vaccinations to market is successfully saving lives. But it is also outpacing government authorities’ ability to identify and implement a standardized system that will permit, even encourage, a return to international business and leisure travel.
That must change.
Currently, some countries – like the U.S. – still call for illogical rules like requiring fully vaccinated returning resident travelers to obtain and present a negative test result for COVID-19 infection. Other countries, like Thailand, South Korea and Dominica, go further by requiring fully vaccinated foreigners to undergo a mandatory quarantine.
When it comes to documentation of coronavirus vaccination or negative PCR test results for COVID-19 it is the Wild West right now as the world’s government health officials slog toward some form of a universal standard for crossing borders. Most vaccination cards are little more than paper card stock, hardly designed to counteract fraud.
Here is a recommendation for countries with high per capita rates of vaccination and previous infection: do not require proof. Open your borders and your economies will follow. Let your health system absorb any cases that occur, which is what they are designed to do. The U.S. should do this immediately and Europe should be in a position to do the same within months, likely before a universal standard is ready.
For those countries that do not have the virus under control, the solution may not be easy to identify. In these locations, government officials must take a leadership role in recommending secure technology standards where users, rather than centralized organizations, store and control data used for vaccine, previous infection and testing verification for COVID-19 and future disease outbreaks. Of course, as vaccines and therapeutics spread throughout the world, these governments should be prepared to reduce or remove restrictions to travel.
If they must show proof, travelers want to control their own vaccination and testing data rather than entrusting centralized organizations with the information. According to Global Rescue’s 2021 Traveler Sentiment and Safety Survey, twice as many respondents want their proof-of-vaccination and COVID-19 testing results maintained by the individual and presented as necessary, as opposed to centralized storage of the personal information. Sixteen percent of respondents do not want the data collected at all.
Travelers haven’t always been against centralized collection of coronavirus testing and vaccination information. In the early days of the pandemic, a Global Rescue survey in September found 88% of travelers were ready for centralized collection of information and wanted governments or organizations to step in and systematize programs designed to beat COVID-19.
As time passed, more testing technology came to bear and travelers embraced the convenience of fast, on-site testing, and revealed they were willing to pay for it. The overwhelming majority of respondents (91%) said they would submit to fast, on-site COVID-19 testing to check for the coronavirus before travel and 80% said they would pay for the test depending on cost.
Sentiment supporting centralized traveler health information made an about face in a little more than half a year.
Transparency and access to testing are key to keeping the most people healthy that we possibly can. Those are two different things and we cannot remove the uncertainty of the travel experience ourselves — that goes to governments. We must get some level of coordination among governments so when travelers book their trips, they have a guarantee they will not have a problem with their digital health certificate and get stuck in quarantine on either side. Better yet, governments in a position with ample healthcare availability should drop their restrictions. And they should do it now.
Dan Richards is CEO of Global Rescue, the world’s leading provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services to enterprises, governments and individuals. He currently serves on the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board at the U.S. Department of Commerce, and a Global Member of the World Travel and Tourism Council.