Are Immunity Passports the Future of Travel?

covid-19 Oct 09, 2020

Eight months after COVID-19 ravaged the travel industry, travel leaders and governments are desperately trying to bring back safe tourism. Mandating visitors to quarantine upon arrival mitigates COVID-19 spread, but it makes normal travel nearly impossible. To solve the problem, officials are piloting a new way to travel: immunity passports. Immunity passports provide documentation that visitors have antibodies or recent negative test results for COVID-19, and exempt people who have them from quarantine orders. In this post, we are breaking down how immunity passports work and what they could mean for the future of travel.

What is an Immunity Passport?

Immunity passports give the user the freedom to travel without quarantine. They are currently being piloted as digital documentation on a smartphone, which can be scanned at airports. The passport will provide evidence that a traveler has recently tested negative for COVID-19 with an approved testing method (some airports are building their own testing centers for this), or that the traveler has tested positive for antibodies to COVID-19.

Where are Immunity Passports Being Used?

Heathrow Airport in London, England, is trialing the first official immunity passport now. The passport will allow travelers on flights between New York, Singapore and London to visit without quarantining when they arrive, as long as they download an app that they can use to upload recent COVID-19 test results.

The app turns their results into a QR code. Immigration officials can scan the code before travelers leave the airport. Immunity passports are under consideration for more destinations, including other U.S. airports.

Heathrow Airport in London, England (pictured) is trialing immunity passports

What are the Benefits of Immunity Passports?

The appeal of immunity passports is that they remove the largest barrier to tourism during the pandemic: 14-day quarantine requirements. Most travelers can’t afford to tack on two extra weeks to a trip, even if they wanted to. Americans take an average of only 17 vacation days a year, so they tend to take shorter trips.

Immunity passports also make travel safer for passengers, since they know that everyone on their flight has tested negative for COVID-19 or has antibodies. Since researchers have warned that flights could turn into superspreader events, it’s important that experts take every precaution possible to minimize risk.

What are the Cons of Immunity Passports?

Immunity passports are not a perfect solution. COVID-19 tests, especially rapid ones, are not always completely accurate, so some people may be carrying COVID-19 even if they have immunity passports.

Secondly, some experts have warned that the passports could create an “antibody elite”: a group of people who experience more freedoms and better quality of life because they have antibodies or negative results. Since COVID-19 tests aren’t always free, more affluent people might be more likely to be able to obtain an immunity passport because they can afford frequent testing.

Immunity Passports Could Save Tourism

Alongside other precautions like mask-wearing, immunity passports have the potential to make safe tourism possible again. We expect to see immunity passports become more common over the next few months, so follow along with us here on the Skip blog for more updates. If you are considering travel, make sure you take precautions like signing up for TSA precheck to minimize airport risk. Since many countries require 6 months of validity on a passport before travel, make sure yours is up-to-date for your next trip.

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