Skift Take

The path to common usage and acceptance will be a difficult one. One thing to remember: Digital health passports aren’t just about travel — but they will help you get to the beach quicker.

There’s still a lot of work ahead for CommonPass, which despite collaborating with several countries has only seen one, Aruba, go fully live with the digital health passport.

It’s also keen to shake off the idea that it’s all about travel, as it attempts to convince governments it’s more about protecting the health of their citizens.

On Wednesday, the Commons Project Foundation, in partnership with the government of Aruba and Covid testing companies Vault and XpresCheck, launched the use of the CommonPass platform to allow JetBlue customers from Boston to enter Aruba.

Speaking at the Skift Business Travel and Future of Work Summit, CEO Paul Meyer told moderator Ned Russell this was a significant milestone.

“This is a production launch, this isn’t a trial,” he said. “It’s not just a system that connects the (Covid) test to the airline, it’s also integrated into the Aruba border control system.”

This was also the first time CommonPass’ API had been integrated which is critical to allow governments, airlines and other stakeholders to scale up the system.

“It means when you land, you go through a fast lane, where you are pre-cleared because you’ve demonstrated through CommonPass that you’ve met the health testing requirements. So you basically get to the beach quicker,” Meyer added.

Network of Trust

The platform has come a long way since its first trial, but Meyer pointed out that the Commons Project Foundation a non-profit public trust, established with support from the Rockefeller Foundation still needs to convince other governments their citizens’ sensitive health data is safe.

These digital passports are able to house Covid-19 test results, or proof of vaccination, and seen as essential not just for restarting travel, but resuming other activities, including hotels, restaurants and concerts.

The Commons Project Foundation has teamed up with the World Economic Forum to create the Common Trust Network, which wants to build a voluntary framework of public and private stakeholders.

In other words, it wants to be the middleman. It’s not a startup that’s about to be swallowed up by a large technology company, Meyer joked.

“We’re building this ecosystem of trust with healthcare institutions who are willing to make their data available in the standards. We’re also welcoming and inviting governments,” he said.

Joining the Dots

Aruba marked the first government to approach it, back in December. But Meyer has been engaging with other countries too. And rather than a bilateral process, it’s talking to groups, including a consortium of six East African nations.

“They were one of the first group of countries we worked with,” Meyer said. “They have pre-existing trust, they trust each other. They’ve committed to the Common Trust Network.”

Meanwhile, it’s talking to the European Union, which wants to create a bloc-wide “green digital certificate” that would combine information on vaccination, Covid-19 tests and recovery from the disease to allow people to take flights and cross borders.

“In the language the EU just released, we loved it because it basically said vaccine credentials should be developed primarily for medical purposes,” he said.

It’s also been engaged with Japan for a long time, which is keen to host the Olympics, as well as the UK government.

Meyer also said he was excited about the integration into Amadeus’ systems.

“If you put yourself in a government policymaker’s shoes, clearly they want to open up, they want travelers,” he added. “But they need to protect their people and the health of their population. Ministers of health are looking at prevalence rates, and emerging variants. If they can’t trust the data, it’s harder to implement that policy.”

On Wednesday, CommonPass revealed that Cathay Pacific had just completed a trial, between Hong Kong and Los Angeles on March 15, so the momentum is growing. But at the summit Meyer also announced that Wal-Mart would now use the Smart Health Cards standard, which is being developed under the Vaccination Credential Initiative, co-chaired by the Commons Project Foundation.

It’s a reminder that it will take many more of these types of collaborations, rather than just the world’s airlines signing up, before more governments fully commit.


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Tags: cathay pacific, commonpass, covid-19, digital health passports, skift live

Photo credit: A growing number of airlines are adopting the CommonPass system. Pascal Meier / Unsplash

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