Health passports and safety certificates: How coronavirus epidemic will change tourism?

Author : Anna Peshkova

Source : 112 Ukraine

Using airlines, hotels, tourist services, travelling without coronavirus restrictions. It is likely that all this will become available to holders of a health passport
21:32, 18 May 2020

Coronavirus VS Tourism
112 Agency

EU, UK, as well as several other countries' authorities plan that after the mass issuance of such documents, contrary to total quarantine, the tourist season will finally begin, and the business will work more actively.

Ukraine is also thinking about introducing a health passport - this was stated in the Agency for Tourism Development. Moreover, in our country, new work rules are also being developed for resorts, hotels, and sanatoriums according to a foreign model. Those institutions that will adhere to these rules are also planning to issue health passports or safety certificates.

How will the new permits work, and what can change in the conditions of tourism?

What is a health passport needed for?

Seven of the eight inhabitants of Germany have in their hands the so-called "vaccination passport", where all vaccinations of citizens are recorded. Approximately by this principle a new document will work, confirming that a person has immunity to Covid-19.

First of all, it will be needed to allow people to work. Now, instead of passports, temperature screening is actively used, but this is not a panacea, because symptoms in patients with coronavirus may not appear. It was assumed that companies from areas closed for the period of quarantine would be interested in documentary evidence of human health, as well as enterprises that carefully monitor the safety of employees.

Germany has already announced that it will conduct mass tests for the presence of antibodies to Covid-19. The convalescents will be given a certificate with exemption from quarantine. In the UK, they plan to introduce the appropriate passports in a month. So far, there are no common parameters for such documents in the EU.

The procedure that is offered in Britain is based on facial biometrics. After a person passes the antibody test, he transfers the data to a special application. This application will also require an identity document and photo for verification. Representatives of companies that will use such a passport in their practice will require a QR code from the employee who will generate this application. This code will become available after a person confirms his identity, that is, is photographed.

But another equally important aspect of applying a health passport is to save the tourism industry (makes up 10% of the EU’s GDP), which is stagnating in quarantine. Almost one in nine people living in the EU are employed in the field. The pandemic is particularly severely affected Spain, Italy, Croatia, and Greece.

So far, the EU plans to resume domestic tourism, so that COVID passports are likely to be introduced only for member countries. Then the countries of the Schengen zone will be connected to the system: Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein. But from the beginning of autumn, documents for travelers from other countries may also be required.

While the timing and probability of implementation is in question. Italy and Spain do not plan to open borders for foreign tourists until the end of the year. Greece, however, intends to let foreigners in already in July, which is pushing for a large-scale development of the document, but France is planning to use such passports only for domestic tourism.

However, not only Europe is interested in such a procedure. In Beijing people are required to show a special, code-confirmed certificate with a negative coronavirus test result.

In Chile, they plan to give out special cards to those who have already recovered from the coronavirus (which is about 5 000 people). The certificate also does not speak of the presence of immunity - only that a person has transferred Covid-19 and risks less than others. The Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation also announced the creation of such a document.

A program has already been created in which everyone with a coronavirus and those with whom he was in contact are visible. The data is going to be "pulled out of the system and entered into the medical records."

If passports are nevertheless implemented on a large scale, they will probably be especially relevant for migrant workers. Ukrainian International Airlines has already received an order for charter flights of labor migrants to Germany, the UK, Finland, Sweden, and Poland. So far, instead of a new document, employees need insurance against coronavirus.

Immunologist Boris Donskoy believes the introduction of new documentation is a good idea.

"So far this is just a project. There is no detail on how it will be implemented. It is not clear what specific tests the international community will take, which laboratories will be certified, and in which countries. But the idea is not bad. People quarantined for a month or two, but if the restrictions last another year and a half, a health passport may become the only tool for movement. If a person has antibodies to the virus and he is PCR-negative, that is, he does not pose a threat to others, why not allow him to travel", the expert shares his opinion.

Does the new passport prove immunity

It is unlikely that a reliable basis for issuing a “health document” can be an express or PCR test because they lose their relevance as soon as a person leaves the doctor’s office. Theoretically, the patient can become infected already in the corridor. Therefore, in the UK they plan to do both tests: for the presence of illness and immunity. But in the EU they did not specify which test data will nevertheless fall into the passport.

It is difficult to say how many people in the world have actually already been ill with coronavirus, because with a mild course of the disease the symptoms often do not appear at all. In addition, even those who have already suffered Covid-19 may remain at risk. There have already been cases of reinfection in South Korea.

Even those who are ill without symptoms may not have enough antibodies in their blood to pass the test and get a new passport. The Fudan University of Shanghai found that antibodies are produced only 10-15 days after the onset of symptoms. Different people have different levels of antibodies, depending on gender, age, disease.

Are there any such tests in Ukraine? The Ministry of Health announced the capacity to manufacture a million pieces per day. Some private companies have already received positive conclusions about the quality of equipment from the EU. But while the Ministry of Health distributes the tests only to some cities, first of all, in order to understand whether collective immunity has developed. In order to implement global testing, large-scale financing and production are needed.

Related: China faces second Covid-19 wave: Medical official confirms information

“At the moment, IFA tests are not enough. Domestic manufacturers are overwhelmed with work for months to come because the Ministry of Health received a signal to start production only a week ago. The Ministry of Health is insufficient, but this should not be a problem for small companies that cover this segment for their own money. Now the market is full of Chinese products, often without documents, with the same success, you can repack millions of pregnancy tests and sign them as IFA. There are no European tests yet. A personal certificate often doesn’t mean anything. Often certification is only an artificial barrier to a bona fide manufacturer," says Donskoy.

In addition to the fact that the quality of the developed tests is often not the highest, there is a risk that they will respond to antibodies that protect against other coronavirus infections. After all, the new virus is not completely isolated but belongs to a whole group of coronaviruses.

If a person has immunity, the big question is how long it will last. It is not clear how long a passport will be issued, how often additional checks will occur. The duration of immunity from coronavirus depends on how seriously the person was ill. If we talk about the Middle East epidemic of MERS in 2015, then seriously ill patients developed antibodies for about another 1.5 years after the illness. In those who were asymptomatic, antibodies ceased to be produced three months after a positive result for the virus.

So a "health passport" can give its owner and others false confidence in safety. Understanding this, in same Britain they decided to move away from the name "passport of immunity."

Violetta Yanishevska, president of the Ukrainian Medical Tourism Association, also doubts that the introduction of “immune” passports will work. In her opinion, the logic of their application is not entirely clear. In addition, it is highly likely that the document will act selectively because only the patient who has been ill with the coronavirus can be in a certain place safely, while others are not.

All these factors reduce the chances of introducing this passport in Ukraine. Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko doubts the effectiveness of the passport. Government officials said the country would benefit from the international experience if it became ubiquitous, and World Health Organization would recommend such passports. WHO is against the implementation of this document.

Safety certificate instead of the health passport

The deputy head of the Committee on Tourism of the Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Volodymyr Tsaruk believes that the health passport will not save the industry. He does not believe that people will do tests, especially at their own expense. Tsaruk suspects that people will prefer to rest inside the country.

The tourism industry generally has the highest hope for domestic tourism. The Ministry of Infrastructure announced that flights will open no earlier than fall. Travel agencies have already opened early bookings for the winter season - 2020-2021, offering customers decent discounts. But there is a possibility that after a vacation abroad you will have to undergo self-isolation or observation in Ukraine, which also raises the pent-up demand for travel within the country.

Now tour operators say that even in Ukraine citizens are in no hurry to book tours. In general, they predict the growth of the popularity of all resorts on the Black Sea, as well as the Carpathian campsites.

According to Yanishevska, today the introduction of a safety certificate from Covid-19 for hotels and resorts in Ukraine and, if it comes to medical tourism, for clinics is much more promising than a health passport.

Among the institution’s safety criteria are a remote measurement of temperature on a daily basis, social distance according to WHO recommendations - at least 1.5 meters. If guests are from the same group, they can live together, relax, and eat. At the same time, several people from different groups cannot use the elevator. The hotel occupancy, according to the recommendations developed in Ukraine, is not more than 75%. In Egypt, for comparison, this figure so far is no more than 25%. Hotel staff should be provided with protective equipment (masks, gloves). On each floor there is a disinfector, elevators and handrails, which are systematically processed.

The Turkish government combines both practices. They plan to certify COVID-19-free resorts across the country, but for this they will ask visitors for medical documents. The number of sun loungers on the beaches is reduced, the distance between tables in restaurants increased. The buffet is also canceled. Instead, they plan to introduce food delivery to rooms or distribution through waiters. The pools will control the number of people.

In Italian Tuscany, they think about online booking of loungers, introducing personal escort for vacationers, and installing separate gates for entry and exit. Instead of umbrellas can set up closed tents. In Egypt, they plan to limit the age of vacationers - not older than 48 years.

"For Ukraine, there simply is no other way. To get a client, you will have to follow security recommendations at least for some time. This is especially true for those who have worked with foreigners. There is an initiative in Ukraine to create an official sign for hotels and give it to those who sign the declaration of compliance with new standards," says Tsaruk.

The quality mark can be especially important for medical tourism.

"This will definitely help us attract patients. If the specialized organizations control the availability of a security certificate, this will be the way out. But if it is left to individual clinics and is not implemented systemically, it will not lead to the expected result," adds Yanishevska.

The losses of the Ukrainian tourism sector from quarantine are estimated at one and a half-billion dollars. If we talk about medical tourism alone, then in 2019, 65 000 patients arrived in Ukraine for the purpose of treatment. According to Yanishevska, they brought to the country a total of 182 million dollars.

In addition, each medical tourist usually travels with an accompanying person, who spends an average of about a thousand dollars more on food, accommodation, leisure. That is, in total this is 247 million dollars a year of financial injections into the economy.

The expert says that even in quarantine conditions, Ukraine has if not a stream, but a trickle of medical tourists who come for reproduction, cell therapy and rehabilitation. Interest in our treatment methods makes us look for workarounds. Patients agree to undergo both observation and self-isolation.

The expert believes that at the end of the year medical tourism will resume if there is no second wave of incidence in the fall. Since they want to open domestic flights to the EU from the end of May, this will affect the construction of routes to Ukraine. It will be possible to get from country A to country B in the European Union in May, and then it will be possible to cross the border by personal transport.

"Price-quality" indicator of quarantine rest in Ukraine

Whether Ukrainian resorts will be able to fulfill all these requirements is a separate issue, since many of them do not have the high-quality infrastructure. And will Ukraine satisfy the high demands of customers who are accustomed to foreign tourism?

Chairman of the All-Ukrainian Association of Tour Operators Igor Golubakha is pessimistic about the new rules.

“The state is not yet able to present new requirements for hotels and resorts. These are issues that concern the business itself, hoteliers to attract customers. Speaking about hotels, boarding houses, motels, they are not ready to receive tourists. Many do not quite understand which sanitary requirements are necessary," Golubaha said.

The expert emphasizes that some international chains have already implemented their internal protocols, which apply to Ukrainian hotels. But a large number of hotels do not have permits and are outside the influence of the state. Golubakha is convinced that they previously violated safety requirements and will violate them afterward.

For many Ukrainian tourists, the cost of rest is more important than safety. In his opinion, a middle ground is needed between the requirements for hotels and resorts and the security measures that customers themselves take.

The introduction of additional security methods, the use of consumables, and the hiring of additional personnel, including medical personnel, will cost the travel sector a pretty penny. Some Turkish hotels, for example, having studied 129 points of requirements, declare that it is unprofitable for them to open and start work. Therefore, some experts say on an increase in the cost of leisure this year.

Related: Ukraine’s Security Service exposes 370 spreaders of fakes about Covid-19

But following the results of quarantine, the solvency of the Ukrainian population has seriously fallen. Some analysts believe that the travel sector cannot do without discounts. Golubaha, for example, emphasizes that tour operators and hoteliers will have to lure customers.

According to him, first of all, radial travels will be popular in Ukraine, that is, vacations within the reach of vehicles, as well as savages at sea, green tourism in the Carpathians. Therefore, some tour operators are redoing package offers into more economical options so that those whose pocket has suffered from the virus can travel.

"They will not increase the price tags. Hotels will work at zero to at least achieve a capital turnover. They have generated multimillion-dollar losses in two months. Unless high demand will push prices for individual cottages in the resort centers, which have a separate entrance," adds Tsaruk.

But external tourism can really expect a significant increase in prices. The cost of air tickets will be affected by the requirements for loading the aircraft at 50% and long downtime of the companies. But the same practice will be applied in other countries, so that additional costs will turn out to be the same component both when traveling, for example, to Israel, and when traveling to Ukraine.

Yanishevska suggests that in terms of medical tourism, Ukraine will still demonstrate favorable, competitive prices compared to other countries. Moreover, medical tourists are usually quite wealthy.

The fact that Ukraine is considering introducing health passports and quality certificates is very positive. But the main thing is that this practice should be properly monitored. And also one should not forget about the state stimulation of the tourism industry, about the provision of tax breaks for tourist facilities so that they can offer Ukrainians safe and financially attractive vacation options.

Related: Patient with severe disease might be diagnosed with Covid-19 despite negative tests

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