International Travel During the Pandemic – Opportunities and Challenges for Labs
Authored by Simon Gordon, Chief Commercial Officer, Accredify
The travel industry, a sector that many once thought to be indomitable, has taken a huge hit in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a report penned by the International Civil Aviation Organization detailing the economic impact of COVID-19 on the aviation industry, global travel has taken a noticeable beating with 74% fewer international passengers flying in 2020 vs 2019.
But light at the end of the tunnel is emerging out of the quarantine-gloom. Nations such as United States, Thailand and the United Kingdom are eliminating quarantine restrictions for many vaccinated travellers, whilst other countries such as Singapore and Brunei are following stricter reopening procedures through the implementation of vaccinated-only travel lanes. Slowly but surely, countries are beginning to reopen their borders to travellers.
However, as a traveller, planning your holiday is a very different state of affairs compared to what it was before the pandemic. A negative pre-departure travel (PDT) COVID-19 test result is now a near ubiquitous mandatory pre-requisite for tourists to begin the first leg of their journey out of their departure country, and nations are enforcing their own rules and requirements to classify travellers into different risk-based groups based on their COVID-vaccination status.
As a result, medical laboratories around the world are now playing an important role in the travel industry, specifically with regards to issuing COVID-19 PDT results that adhere to the requirements of the traveller’s destination country. But apart from the individualised travel requirements that countries have enforced on inbound tourists, there are still several hurdles that travellers and labs must cross.
1. Country-specific Formats and Travel Regulations
Currently in the realm of COVID-19 PDT results, there is no one standard health certificate or standard operating procedure that countries can follow for international travel. As a result, nations are implementing country-specific testing requirements for vaccinated and non-vaccinated travellers, and an increasing number of countries require health declaration documents in their own format.
For example, Japan requires that an inbound traveller’s COVID-19 health declaration memo consists of both English and Japanese subsections as well as an additional fit-to-fly memo. Whereas China has their own complex rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated groups of travellers.
2. Disparate Data Travel Standards
As if things couldn’t get more complicated, in order to speed up operational processes related to authenticating a traveller’s COVID status, airlines themselves are turning to various internationally recognised digital standards to simplify the process of ensuring that an international traveller is COVID-compliant. As of the time this article was written, commonly used standards are The Common Network’s CommonPass, IATA’s Travel Pass, IBM’s Digital Health Pass, and Singapore’s HealthCerts.
Even so, these standard providers are investing into securing stakeholders for their own seemingly standalone ecosystem. IATA’s Travel Pass is being adopted by a large number of global airlines; CommonPass is more typically used in Europe, and IBM is working with governments in the United States and Germany to deploy their standard. But even so, airlines may not recognise all of the commonly used schemas mentioned above, opting to choose the more widely recognised digital standards.
This disparity between travel standards could be so huge that a traveller may require two or three different COVID-19 travel memos to travel from Europe to the Middle East and on to Asia Pacific. You can just imagine the uncertainty and confusion that travellers will face if they wanted to even start booking a trip out of their country.
A visual example of the different passes and standards a traveller must present during their journey.
Turning back to the healthcare industry, COVID-19 testing laboratories will have to conform to each standard if they wish to issue travel memos to travellers as international travel reopens. So, on top of being aware of a country’s specific travel memo requirement, laboratories will also have to issue test results that are aligned with the growing number of accepted travel standards.
Conforming to these digital travel standards pose even greater complications operationally for labs as each standard requires their own technical implementation and integration into their lab information management system (LIS/LIMS) back-end. Often, the integration process will take weeks or even months for each standard; for laboratories, precious time that could have earned them revenue from the process of issuing COVID-19 test results to travellers.
3. QR-Code Verifiable COVID-19 Test Results
A worrying and increasingly common issue that has been unfurling around the world has been the rise in cases of fake COVID-19 test results. In an article written by CNBC, The U.K. reported cases of individuals selling fraudulent COVID-19 results for USD137. In Paris, a forgery ring was selling test results to passengers priced from US$181 – $363. Such bogus test results would have devastating consequences, potentially sparking another endemic wave for nations worldwide if false-negative patients were allowed to enter foreign countries.
As a result, to eliminate the occurrence of fraudulent test results, more countries are beginning to adopt verifiable document technology to issue digital, tamper-proof COVID-19 travel memos. China and Singapore have already adopted the use of QR code-verifiable test results whilst numerous others are beginning to accept QR code test results.
So, one may ask – what are QR-code verifiable COVID-19 test results actually? These particular certificates are issued with a QR code which relevant authorities such as airline staff and immigration authorities use to scan to verify a traveller’s COVID health status on-site.
The Way Forward for Labs
International travel is already stressful enough for travellers without the added uncertainty and anxiety of having to understand if a specific lab provider will meet the requirements of the country they are looking to travel to.
Because of the wide variety of standards and requirements that are being enforced globally, labs are forced to integrate with all the different schemas whilst simultaneously trying to understand and meet their customer’s specific requirements to travel. Adding on to the confusion and headache, country travel regulations are constantly changing and are often updated every few months.
In order to make sense of the uncertainty amidst the disparity of travel standards, labs should look for a service provider that can be integrated into their LIS/LIMS to create and distribute test result memos in accordance with the necessary travel standard the traveller requires whilst relieving operational burden.
One such service provider that labs can consider is Accredify. Accredify, a software-as-a-solution (SaaS) firm, is able to integrate directly with a lab’s information systems via an API, automating the process of creating and sending QR-verifiable travel memos. The firm is able to issue country-specific formatted COVID-19 test results, combined memos (molecular + antigen results) and fit-to-fly memos for specific countries as required. As well as being integrated with IATA’s Travel Pass, CommonPass, and IBM’s Health Pass, COVID-19 test results issued by Accredify is recognised by 82 countries and more than 70 airlines.
In a complex travel environment that poses both confusion and uncertainty, solution providers such as Accredify can help labs and travellers gain assurance that their COVID test results will be recognised by their destination country and airline.
Headquartered in Singapore, Accredify is the leading service provider for organisations to create and issue verifiable documents. With a presence in more than nine markets serving 900 clients globally, documents issued by Accredify have been verified close to 7 million times. With a dedicated team that embraces the highest standards of customer service, security, and privacy, Accredify’s objective is to be the trusted solution for managing and verifying documents anywhere and anytime.
For more information, visit www.accredify.io and follow us on LinkedIn @Accredify