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Air New Zealand to trial Covid vaccine passport on Sydney flights

Air New Zealand will trial a digital vaccine passport in April on flights between Auckland and Sydney.

As vaccination begins in Australia, attention has turned to the potential resumption of international travel and how Australia could track whether potential visitors have been vaccinated.

Several tech companies have been working with the World Health Organization to develop a secure digital vaccination record system that could be used to prove to airlines and governments that passengers have had a Covid vaccine.

One such app, Travel Pass, developed by the International Air Transport Association, will be trialed by Air New Zealand from April to “streamline the health verification process to help customers know what they need to take their next international trip safely”.

When someone is vaccinated or tested, the medical centre or lab can to securely send that information to the app, which can then be cross-checked against the travel requirements for the country they are trying to visit. With the customer’s permission, this health information can then be shared with airlines or border control in order to verify they are eligible to travel.

The airline is still in conversations with governments about integrating the app into vaccination and testing procedures.

An Australian Department of Health statement said it looked forward to reviewing the outcomes of the trial .

“The Australian government is supportive of ways to ensure the safety of the Australian community through the efficient collection and verification of traveller data whilst adhering to strict privacy provisions,” it said.

A similar app, Health Pass by company Clear, has been used in some US airports to regulate travel.

Air New Zealand said the digital passport did not use any “central database storing personal information”.

“Customer privacy is at the heart of the design … rather it is shared at the travellers’ discretion, in a safe and secure way,” the company said in a statement.

It’s unclear how useful this trial will be, unless a reciprocal travel bubble between the two countries is in place by April. Also, the government estimates only one in six Australians will be vaccinated by that point.

Air New Zealand’s chief digital officer, Jennifer Sepull, said the app would give customers “peace of mind that they meet all travel requirements for the different countries around the world before they even get to the airport”.

“Once borders reopen, travel is going to look very different,” she said in a statement.

“Reassuring customers that travel is, in fact, safe is one of our priorities. By using the app, customers can have confidence that everyone onboard meets the same government health requirements they do.”

IATA’s senior vice-president airport, Nick Careen, said he hoped the app would allow the two countries to ease international border restrictions faster.

“[The trial] will help give governments the confidence to reopen borders and passengers the confidence to travel,” he said.

“The app has been developed with the highest levels of data privacy and security … and governments can be confident that passengers who are ‘OK to travel’ are in full compliance of Covid-19 travel requirements.”

The trial will begin once the app is launched for public use in April and will run for three weeks. Air NewZealand said both aircrew and customers would be invited to download the digital passport.

Guardian Australia understands that Qantas is also looking into a number of vaccination passport apps but have not made any formal announcements. The airline’s chief executive, Alan Joyce, has previously stated that it would consider making a Covid-19 vaccination a requirement for international travel on its planes.

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