FRANKFURT, Germany — A public-interest foundation is testing a smartphone app that could make it easier for international airline passengers to securely show they’ve complied with COVID-19 testing requirements. It’s an attempt to help get people back to flying after the pandemic sent global air travel down by 92%.
The Switzerland-based Commons Project Foundation was conducting a test Wednesday of its CommonPass digital health pass on United Airlines Flight 15 from London’s Heathrow to Newark Liberty International Airport, using volunteers carrying the app on their smartphones. Officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Customs and Border Protection were observing the test.
The system looks forward to the day when travel may be determined not only by testing but by the need to show vaccination records. The World Health Organization says vaccines may start becoming available by mid-2021, though efficacy and availability to broad parts of the global population remain large question marks.
Foundation CEO Paul Meyer said the pass is “intended to give people the ability to travel again by documenting that they meet the requirements of the places they want to go… This is a way to get things moving again.”
The problem: the pandemic has led to a patchwork of travel bans, quarantines and testing requirements, with each country imposing its own rules.
Testing is seen by airlines as a way to reassure passengers and allow people to skip quarantines, but there’s no common approach. When it comes to testing, passengers may present paper documents in different languages and from labs unknown to authorities in a given country.
The CommonPass project, carried out in cooperation with the Switzerland-based World Economic Forum, aims to establish standard ways to verify lab results and, later, vaccination records, even if governments continue to set different health criteria.
Scientists warn there are concerns about the accuracy of some rapid tests. People can be infectious before they show symptoms, and these people may also test negative. CommonPass leaves those questions to the governments setting the requirements, but can adapt as better tests are developed.