When Dr Integrity Mchechesi visited a bus terminal in Zimbabwe's capital city Harare, people were calling out, asking if anyone needed a negative COVID-19 test certificate.
Such COVID-19 test certificates can be bought for as little as 10 US dollars, or roughly 50 dollars less than an actual COVID test, in Harare, said Mchechesi, a doctor and co-founder of Vaxiglobal, a health-tech start-up focused on immunization verification in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe is one of a number of countriesworking on digital solutions to verify who has been vaccinated. Countries like Denmark, Spain and Greece have supported the idea of COVID-19 vaccination passports, and the WHO is working on an international digital vaccination card that will provide a framework with standards for countries to adhere to.
Dr Integrity Mchechesi, co-founder of Vaxiglobal
At the bus terminals in Harare, Mchechesi was researching falsified vaccination certificates. In a survey of yellow fever vaccination certificates, Vaxiglobal found that more than 80 percent of those used at some bus terminals in Harare were falsified.
"We thought that [was] really concerning," said Mchechesi. "It's not like there is any policing that's done, it's actually sold freely."
Focus turns to COVID-19
Now Vaxiglobal has shifted its attention to verifying COVID-19 test certificates. The organization is workingwith the Zimbabwean health ministry to digitize COVID-19 test results to combat the sale of counterfeit certificates.
Healthcare workers enter the results of people's COVID-19 PCR tests into a decentralized database on Vaxiglobal's platform. When they upload the results, a unique QR code is generated for each result and is attached to a certificate that can be printed or stored in Vaxiglobal's app. Border authorities can then instantly verify the certificate.
Vaxiglobal's app allows border officials to see when and where the test was done
"You can imagine, someone can actually be COVID-19 positive and they don't get their test, they just bought that COVID-19 certificate and the border officials assume that the person is COVID negative that's how cases are being transmitted internationally," said Mchechesi.
The number of fake COVID-19 test certificates hasn't been that high because there is some regulation and citizens are concerned for their health, but the fake certificates are still readily available, said Mchechesi. "You can imagine people are obviously tempted to go for that because it's cheaper."
Mchechesi said a COVID-19 PCR test costs between 45 and 60 dollars in Zimbabwe, a country where 34 percent of the population lived under the extreme poverty line of 1.90 dollar a day in 2019, according to the World Bank.
Zimbabwe has not started rolling out COVID-19 vaccines. When it does, Vaxiglobal plans to apply the same technology to verify vaccination certificates.
Travelers have to present their yellow fever vaccination certificate upon entry into certain countries
Setting a standard for vaccination documentation
Currently, yellow fever is the only disease specified in the World Health Organization's (WHO) International Health Regulations (IHR) that requires proof of vaccination for entry to some countries. The yellow fever vaccination certificate is also the only proof of vaccination certified under the IHR.
But "it is a paper card, easy to falsify, anybody can produce that card with a stamp [and] say 'I got a vaccine,'" Bernardo Mariano, WHO's director of digital health innovation, told DW. "We know that every time there is some sort of rule or regulation put in place, some people will try to break it, create false information or a vaccination certificates."
The IHR provide a legal framework that defines countries' rights and obligations when handling public health crises and emergencies that have the potential to cross borders.
While vaccination against COVID-19 is not part of the IHR yet, a country can make a unilateral decision. Some countries already require a negative COVID-19 test to enter, and the next evolution of that will be requiring proof of vaccination, said Mariano.
WHO open to cooperation with private innovators
For a COVID-19 vaccination certificate to become compulsory for travel the world over, it would have to be part of the IHR, and that process would take a long time, Mariano said. But there are other avenues.
"We believe that the discussion is going on now, and there are a number of companies developing and innovating in this space," he added. "And we want to be in the discussion to set standards early on."
One such initiative is the CommonPass, a digital framework for verifying COVID-19 tests and vaccination certificates. Some airlines have already been rolling out the app to passengers on select flights.
A number of organizations approached the WHO with their own individual solutions, and the WHO's role is to set the standard for certificates, Mariano told DW.
Israel is largely suspending its international flights for nearly a week. The flight suspension goes into effect at 00:00 local time on Tuesday (Jan. 26) and will remain in effect until Sunday. The measure is intended to prevent coronavirus strains from entering the country. Up to 40 percent of new cases in Israel are due to the British COVID-19 mutation.
Ten months after the border closure, international tourists can travel to Sri Lanka again. As confirmed by officials on Monday (Jan 18), travelers will be able to re-enter the island from Jan. 21 if they comply with strict security regulations, present a negative PCR test and stay in a quarantine hotel for 14 days.
Despite extended coronavirus restrictions in Italy, as of Monday (Jan 18), museums and exhibitions in some regions will be able to reopen. This rule applies to the so-called Yellow Zones, where the coronavirus infection situation is less tense. Among others, the Archaeological Park in Pompeii is again able to receive visitors because it is located in the yellow region of Campania.
It's snowing in the Alps and the lower German mountain ranges. Despite all appeals, people are drawn outdoors. In many places, the perfect winter sports conditions are leading to kilometer-long traffic jams, overcrowded parking lots and full slopes, like here in Winterberg. Many municipalities can no longer control the rush and are moving to seal off their ski areas.
New Zealand is setting up a "travel bubble" with neighboring Australia. After months of border closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, New Zealand will once again allow tourists from Australia to enter the country without quarantine requirements in the New Year. New Zealanders have been able to travel to Australia again since October without having to go into quarantine.
On Saturday (December 5) the first Aida cruise ship is scheduled to leave for a one-week trip to the Canary Islands. The ship, designed for 3300 passengers, will reportedly be 50 percent full. All passengers will need to provide a negative coronavirus test, no more than 72 hours old. On board, strict hygiene and distancing rules apply, and only guided shore excursions will be possible.
Australian airline Qantas wants to introduce compulsory vaccination for intercontinental flights. "We will require international travelers to be vaccinated before we allow them on board," Qantas CEO Alan Joyce stated. The general terms and conditions would be adjusted accordingly. Whether this will also be a requirement for domestic flights has not yet been decided.
Both cities will launch a 'travel bubble' on November 22, which will allow people to move quarantine free in each direction, their governments announced on Wednesday (Nov 11), in a rare piece of good news for the pandemic-battered tourism industry. A quota of 200 residents from each city will be able to travel on one daily bubble flight to the other.
Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca city in the Peruvian Andes mountains, has reopened almost eight months after it was closed down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Peruvian authorities organized an Inca ritual to mark the reopening. To allow for distancing, a maximum of 675 tourists per day are allowed to enter the old Inca city. That is less than a third of the normal number allowed.
Rio de Janeiro's famous annual Carnival spectacle will not go ahead in February. Organizers said the spread of the coronavirus in Brazil made it impossible to safely hold parades which with some seven million people celebrating are a cultural mainstay, tourism magnet and, for many, a source of livelihood. Brazil has the second highest death rate in the world after the United States and India.
To curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic the German government has announced though new measures to start Monday, November 2. The new restrictions effect the travel business as overnight stays in hotels for tourist purposes will be banned, entertainment facilities such as theaters and cinemas will be closed as will bars and restaurants, which will only be allowed to offer take out services.
The city announced on Monday (Oct.26) that this decision had been made in view of the rapidly increasing number of coronavirus cases. The mayor explained that it was to be assumed that in the near future the Covid-19 traffic light in Nuremberg will change to dark red. "Against this background, we think it would be the wrong signal to go ahead with the annual Christkindlesmarkt Christmas market.
The Canary Islands are no longer on the list of corona risk areas, the Robert Koch Institute announced on Thursday (Oct. 22). The abolition of the travel warning for the Canary Islands should above all please tour operators.For them, the islands off the coast of Africa with their year-round summer climate are one of the most important sources of hope for the winter season.
Starting October 15, some of the Caribbean state have been reopened for international flights, with Havana a notable exception. Every visitor is tested for the coronavirus upon arrival, and a team of doctors is available in every hotel. The German vacation airline Condor plans to offer flights to Cuba's most popular tourist destination, the Varadero peninsula, starting October 31.
Discussions are underway between Australia and low-risk countries across Asia and the Pacific to lift coronavirus travel restrictions, but the government has warned that travel to the US and Europe may not be an option until 2022. From Friday, Australia will open its international borders for the first time since March, allowing visitors from New Zealand to travel to the country quarantine-free.
The cruise industry has decided to make coronavirus testing mandatory for all guests and crew members aboard cruise ships. The Cruise Lines International Association, the worlds largest such organization, announced on October 8 that passengers can only board ships by providing proof of a negative test result. All member shipping companies worldwide must now comply with this rule.
In the wake of significant increases in coronavirus infection figures in Europe, Berlin has announced further EU countries as risk areas for travelers. In addition to Belgium and Iceland, additional areas of France and Great Britain, including all of Northern Ireland and Wales, were also classified as risk areas on September 30.
Thailand is to receive its first foreign vacationers when a flight from China arrives next week, marking the gradual restart of a vital tourism sector battered by coronavirus travel curbs, a senior official said on Tuesday. The first flight will carry some 120 tourists from Guangzhou, flying directly to the resort island of Phuket.
India's most famous building was closed for six months, but since Monday ( September 21) it can be visited again, under strict restrictions. Only 5000 online tickets will be issued per day. There are temperature checks at the entrance. Selfies are allowed, group photos are prohibited. The Taj Mahal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is normally visited by 8 million people every year.
The Foreign Ministry has reacted to higher numbers of coronavirus infections on September 16 by issuing further travel warnings, including Vienna and Budapest. The province of North Holland with Amsterdam as well as South Holland with the cities of The Hague and Rotterdam are also affected. New risk areas were also identified in the Czech Republic, Romania, Croatia, France, and Switzerland.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the tourism sector has suffered a loss of 460 billion dollars (388 billion euros) from January to June, the World Tourism Organization reported in Madrid. The loss of sales was five times higher than during the international financial and economic crisis of 2009, and the total number of tourists worldwide fell by 65 percent in the first half of the year.
Germanys Foreign Office has warned against unnecessary tourism to Czech capital, Prague, and the Swiss cantons Geneva and Vaud (Vaud). This also applies to the French Mediterranean island of Corsica, the French regions Auvergne-Rhones-Alpes (around Lyon), Nouvelle-Aquitaine (around Bordeaux) and Occitania (around Toulouse) as well as more Croatian Adriatic areas, such as the city of Dubrovnik.
The German government has extended its travel warning for around 160 countries through September 30. The advisory applies to "third countries" i.e. countries that are not members of the EU or associated with the Schengen area. From October 1st, a "differentiated system" will apply, in which individual travel and safety information will be given for each country.
Australia has extended its travel restrictions for a further three months. The borders will remain closed for visitors from abroad until at least December 17. However, the government announced that domestic travel will soon be allowed for residents of the country. An exception will be the state of Victoria, with its metropolis Melbourne, for which a lockdown has been in place since early July.
The German government has extended the travel warning for around 160 countries outside the European Union by two weeks until September 14. A spokeswoman for the German Foreign Ministry explained the move on Wednesday (Aug 26) with rising coronavirus infection rates. "The situation will not relax sufficiently by mid-September to be able to lift the worldwide travel warning," she said.
With 2,500 instead of 6,000 passengers, the MSC Grandiosa left the port of Genoa on August 16. Stops on the seven-day voyage include Naples, Palermo and Valletta. Passengers and crew were tested for coronavirus before boarding, and body temperature is to be checked on a daily basis. Rival cruise company Costa will not be offering Mediterranean cruises again until September.
Germany's health and interior ministries have agreed that all of Spain apart from the Canary Islands is now a high-risk area due to a surge in cases. Spain said it was closing night clubs across the country. Restaurants, bars and similar venues would need to close by 1 a. m. and would not be allowed to take in new guests after midnight.
In the first six months of 2020, 59% fewer tourists came to Berlin than in the previous year. The Statistics Office said on August 10 that 2.7 million guests had visited Berlin, the lowest number since 2004. The slump was even worse for foreign tourists: two thirds stayed away. Since June, the figures have been recovering and are at 30 to 40% of the previous year.
Anyone entering Germany from a high-risk area must take a coronavirus test from August 8, after an order by Health Minister Jens Spahn. Currently, many countries are classified as risk areas, including the United States and Brazil. In the European Union, Luxembourg, the Belgian region of Antwerp and the Spanish regions of Aragon, Catalonia and Navarre were risk areas as of early August.
Norwegian cruise operator Hurtigruten has stopped all cruises on August 3 until further notice after an outbreak of the coronavirus on one of its ships. At least 40 passengers and crew members on the Roald Amundsen tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, German cruise line Aida Cruises has also postponed its planned restart due to the lack of necessary permits.
Despite coronavirus uncertainty, Nepal has reopened Mount Everest for the autumn trekking and climbing season. To boost the struggling tourism sector the government will permit international flights to land in the country from August 17. The Himalayan country shut its borders in March just ahead of the busy spring season when hundreds of mountaineers usually flock to the country.
Concerned over a possible second wave of coronavirus, Amsterdam has requested that tourists not visit the Dutch capital on weekends. Potential day-trippers should come between Monday and Thursday, the city said on July 23. The tourist influx has swelled to such a degree that recommended social distancing of 1.5 meters between people is currently not possible in the city center.
In order to manage tourist throngs amid the pandemic, Bavaria's Economy Minister Hubert Aiwanger is planning a live digital guiding system for visitors. Clogged streets, wild campers and overcrowding on hiking trails in the Alps this brings popular regions such as Lake Tegernsee (photo) to their limits. The live update system is primarily intended to redirect day-trippers to less full areas.
Holiday flights within Europe are on the move again, with passengers sitting close together. According to an opinion poll by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), 62% of those questioned are afraid of being infected by passengers in the next seat. This was identified by IATA as the main reason for the decline in willingness to travel, which is now only 45%.
Author: Andreas Kirchhoff, Susan Bonney-Cox
He likened the WHO's vision to the use of bank cards with the Visa logo on them. The cards belong to different banks but they operate using Visa's payment system.
"You have this trusted ecosystem where hundreds of thousands of banks and millions of merchants in [different] countries can transact in a trusted system," said Mariano. "Basically, [WHO] is a trusted entity that is able to validate that certificate but then we want to ensure that we don't get into the business of producing apps and software."
That way, the companies developing digital solutions can continue their work and sell to governments.
Debate over requiring vaccination for travel
In a letter to the European Commission on January 12, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis suggested setting up a common European certificate for people vaccinated against COVID-19.
Vaccination would not be compulsory or a prerequisite for travel, but people who have been vaccinated should be free to travel, Mitsotakis wrote. "It is urgent to adopt a common understanding on how a vaccination certificate should be structured so as to be accepted in all member states."
On January 15, the WHO's Emergency Committee recommended that countries do not require proof of vaccination from incoming travelers based on the still unknown impact of the vaccines on reducing transmission and the limited number of vaccines available.
A country could decide to make vaccination a requirement for entry, but it would be difficult to verify without an internationally recognized standard.
"The challenge is, if there's no entity that sets the standards of what that vaccine means, I can come with any piece of paper and say: 'I have the vaccine,'" Mariano said.
The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), which opposes vaccination requirements for travel, said the step would delay the revival of an already struggling travel and tourism sector that many rely on for income.
GuaveraGuavera, president and CEO of the WTTC, told DW that because it will take a significant amount of time to vaccinate the global population, some people who might want to get vaccinated but hadn't had the chance yet would be discriminated against, "particularly those in less developed countries, or those in less vulnerable age groups."
The WTTC instead supports testing on departure and arrival.
If all goes to plan, the WHO will have developed and defined the vaccination certificate standards and addressed data privacy issues by the end of March, with the standards ready to go by the beginning of April.
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