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Thursday,  June 13, 2024 3:26 AM 

Canada commits to vaccine passports; officials may build feature into ArriveCAN app

Canada commits to vaccine passports; officials may build feature into ArriveCAN app
Health Minister Patty Hajdu says a vaccine passport system may be added to the already-built ArriveCAN app. (file photo)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

Canada is moving forward with plans to develop a vaccination certificate, or “vaccine passport,” that would allow COVID-free Canadians to resume international travel – and the proposed digital pass may be added to the already-built ArriveCAN app, Health Minister Patty Hajdu says.

In an interview with CBC Radio's The House airing Saturday (May 1), Minister Hajdu said her government is going to embrace vaccine passports, recognizing that Canadians are eager to start travelling again.

"Canadians are going to want to travel and just like there have been changes in other kinds of travel requirements over the years as a result of a number of events, Canadians need to be prepared to be able to travel internationally. And we'll make sure that they are," Hajdu told CBC.

Upgrading ArriveCAN

Details on Canada’s progress in developing a digital certification system for vaccinated individuals have been vague thus far.

But Hajdu dropped a new hint on Saturday, telling CBC that the government is looking at building a vaccine passport system into Canada’s ArriveCAN app, a mobile tool, launched last year, that requires travellers to submit their contact information, COVID-19 symptom self-assessment and quarantine plan before boarding their flight to Canada.

READ MORE: Vaccine certificates “to be expected” amid the pandemic, Trudeau says

Since November 2020, travellers wishing to enter Canada, either by land or air, have had to show an ArriveCAN receipt to border services officers upon entry.

Canada’s ArriveCAN app, launched in 2020, is currently a requirement for international travellers wishing to enter Canada.

The app also allows air travellers to register their mandatory three-night hotel quarantine stay, a requirement that has been in place since February.  

"From our perspective we have a bit of a head start in terms of entry into Canada in that we have ArriveCAN, the app that allows for digital proof of testing ...and a variety of other documents that people have to submit to enter Canada," Minister Hajdu told CBC.

"We'll be working with our international partners to make sure that whatever the world lands on, Canadians will have documents in the appropriate format."

Growing support in Canada

In Canada, research suggests that there is growing support for using vaccine passports for travel, according to a new Ipsos poll.

In a recent survey of 1,000 Canadians, Ipsos found that six in ten Canadians (61%) say that only people who have been vaccinated should be allowed to do things that involve large groups of people, such public transit, flying, or attending cultural and sports events.

READ MORE: Canadians strongly support vaccine passports for travel: Ipsos poll

By contrast, 39% of Canadians feel that limiting activities only to those who have been vaccinated is unfair to those who are ineligible, are waiting for a vaccine or choose not to be vaccinated.

A majority of Canadians expect vaccine passports to be widely used in Canada by the end of the year, with six in ten (61%) who agree (26% strongly/35% somewhat), Ipsos says. 

Global efforts ramp up

As vaccination efforts continue to ramp up around the world, global discussions on ways to reopen international travel after more than a year of shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic are ablaze.

Israel, for one, has already been using a "green pass" app that allows vaccinated individuals to move more freely amid the pandemic (by allowing entrance into restaurants and large venues, for example).

In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been cool towards mandating vaccine certificates on the domestic level, telling media in March that they can be “discriminatory" towards some people.

But the PM has also acknowledged that proof of vaccination for international travel is a “well-established practice” that has existed for some time with certain countries.

Vaccine certificates are “naturally to be expected” during the pandemic, says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (file photo)

While Canada hasn’t officially mandated vaccine passports just yet, Trudeau, speaking to journalists on April 27, said they are “naturally to be expected” during the pandemic.

This comes as both the United States and the European Union’s 27-country bloc engage in talks about rebooting non-essential international travel using a “Digital Green Certificate.”

The EU’s own proposed Digital Green Certificate Regulation advanced with a vote in European Parliament on April 28, allowing negotiations between Parliament and the EU Council to begin with the hope of launching a program in Europe by June.

READ MORE: IATA, ETC applaud EU Parliament vote on vaccine certificate

The aim of the pass, which can be stored on a smartphone, is to enable free movement and reopen travel within the EU by providing proof that a person has been vaccinated, results of tests for those who can’t get a vaccine yet, and information on one’s COVID-19 recovery.

This week EU Parliament brought forth forward changes to the pass’s original proposal, including a new name – “EU COVID-19 Certificate” – as well as provisions for free and accessible testing, as well as full equality among vaccinated and tested citizens. 

EU countries would be responsible for issuing the certificate, which could be available through hospitals, test centres or national health authorities.

The International Air Transport Association's (IATA) has also released its own app for enhancing compliance with health requirements for air passengers.

The “IATA Travel Pass" allows authorized labs to securely send test results or vaccination certificates to passengers. (IATA)

The “IATA Travel Pass,” announced in November 2020, allows authorized labs to securely send test results or vaccination certificates to passengers, who can also store a digital version of their passport and input flight details to learn of travel restrictions in destinations.

Several airlines, such as Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand, Copa Airlines, Etihad Airways, Emirates, Qatar Airways and others, have already signed up to give the pass go, with trials already underway in some cases. 

G7 countries have agreed to coordinate a plan for the development of a vaccine passport system – and that plan includes participation from Canada.

In a media interview last March, Minister Hajdu said Canada was indeed in the early stages of developing a travel certificate that is consistent with other countries.

“The G7 partners agreed that there needs to be some consistency and some collaboration among the countries, so we have some kind of system that would be recognizable, no matter where a person was travelling,” Hajdu said at the time.

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