South Africa wants to introduce a vaccine passport – but there’s a catch

 ·18 Aug 2021

The Department of Tourism says that it wants to introduce a vaccine passport for South Africa. Still, several international and legislative hurdles need to be addressed.

Briefing parliament on Tuesday (17 august), Tourism director-general Nkhumeleni Victor Tharage said that the key issue is a lack of standardisation around vaccine passports worldwide.

“Even in some jurisdictions that have opted to apply this (passport), there isn’t yet a sense of uniformity. When we don’t have a single, standardised specimen, it is a little bit difficult to say which one is which.

“If South Africa introduces (a passport), and there is access to information from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) that confirms that a person has been vaccinated, the question is if that person arrives Lagos (Nigeria), what resources will they use to verify this information that is stored on a database in South Africa?”

Tharage said that South Africa faces the same dilemma in verifying tourists that arrive in the country from overseas.

He said that the government was also cautious about introducing a vaccine passport system that is discriminatory against certain groups of people.

“When we reopen, and when everyone is starting to travel, it should not be discriminatory. And that principle has been reiterated time and time again.”

Another issue considered for the vaccine passport is whether they will be a requirement for events.

Tharage said he was confident that this is something that the government could easily introduce on short notice.

“At the end of the day, it’s about being able to get the necessary confidence from consumers, tourists and trade. If we don’t do that, then there will be a negative impact on our recovery.”

Flights and travel 

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula has said that his department is working with businesses to ensure that South Africa successfully reopens for international travel.

Presenting his departmental budget speech at the end of May, Mbalula said that South Africa must ensure that it joins the growing number of countries that accepts the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) mobile travel pass.

The travel pass is a mobile app that helps travellers store and manage their verified certifications for Covid-19 tests or vaccines.

It is more secure and efficient than current paper processes used to manage health requirements, IATA said. This is important given the potentially enormous scale of testing or vaccine verifications that the group must securely manage.

IATA said it aims to introduce further changes, including enabling QR code scanning by immigration officers.

mapping tool developed by travel website Skyscanner shows that as of 18 August, South Africa has 84 ‘major restrictions’ from other countries in place.

These countries have suspended travel, may be closed to entry, or may only be possible if you are a citizen/meet strict entrance requirements.

By comparison, there are currently 28 moderate restrictions on South Africa, where travel is possible, but only if travellers meet certain entry requirements, including taking Covid-19 tests.

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