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'Covid passports' on the cards for travellers

Panellists at a Bermuda Tourism Authority webinar on coronavirus testing and its implications for travel (Picture supplied)

“Covid passports” could soon become a reality, the Government’s expert on the coronavirus has warned.

Carika Weldon, the head of the island’s coronavirus test programme, predicted at a Bermuda Tourism Authority webinar that a test and vaccination passport was “definitely going to be needed”.

Dr Weldon also told people now being vaccinated that they would have to have received both jabs and wait until six weeks from their first shot before they could expect to have 95 per cent protection against Covid-19.

Kirk McMurray, the chief executive of US testing provider Open Clear LLC, told the panel of experts in last Friday’s online talk that he hoped that the special pandemic passports would come with strict limits on how personal information was shared.

The two were speaking as American Airlines announced the launch of a “mobile health app” for travellers to the United States, designed to make it easier to provide proof of clear coronavirus test results on entry to the country.

The US will require all international arrivals to produce a negative test result taken inside three days before travel from January 26.

Clear coronavirus tests have been required since January 7 for travel to Canada, and from last Friday to enter Britain.

But the rules are different for children according to country.

Children aged 2 and older will need a negative test to enter the US.

The requirement is 5 and older in Canada and for the UK it is 12 and older.

But Glenn Jones, the interim chief executive of the BTA, advised travellers to check direct before getting pre-departure tests.

He said: “It would not be uncommon for a rule like this to change.”

Dr Weldon, Mr McMurray and Mr Jones were joined by Cheryl Lee Eberting, the chief executive of Azova Health, which is also a US-based test provider.

Azova has teamed up with US retail chain Costco to provide coronavirus tests for travellers to Bermuda.

Tests can be purchased online or registered for in advance before going to Costco.

Dr Eberting said the partnership with the wholesale chain was useful for holders of Bermudian credit cards.

Azova will accept Bermuda cards, but Costco will only take payments from cards with a US address.

Dr Eberting added that an extension of the testing scheme for Bermudians to Costco stores in Canada was “in the works”.

Azova also provides a home test kit for a saliva PCR test for the virus.

Dr Eberting said travellers can give a sample, monitored on a video call, put it in a specimen bag and have it shipped by UPS and get the result inside 12 to 48 hours of it reaching the lab.

She added: “Azova will soon have a UK testing solution – check back with us probably in a week.”

OpenClear runs a screening service in partnership with the BTA, with a pop-up test centre for travellers to Bermuda in New York’s Manhattan.

Mr McMurray said that the nose and throat PCR test was ranked “the gold standard”.

But he added that the saliva test option was now available for travellers and had proved “nearly as reliable or as reliable”.

Dr Weldon said an increase in demand for pre-departure tests for people due to leave Bermuda was a “logistical challenge” and that 20 to 25 per cent more test capacity was required on the island.

She added: “However, we are definitely prepared to do so.”

Dr Weldon said the Government was reviewing a “costing proposal” for pre-departure tests, but added no fees had been introduced yet.

She revealed that the Bermuda lab had been able to process coronavirus tests in hours when patients had to be flown to the US for medical emergencies.

Government cannot at present require Bermudians to get a pretest before they travelled back to the country – although all visitors have to be tested.

But Mr Jones warned that Bermuda residents should stay where they are if they test positive for the coronavirus before their flight home.

He said: “If you are knowingly positive, you are not supposed to travel.

“You could conceal it from the airline, but if it was uncovered you could be banned from travelling with that airline in the future.”

He said travelling while infected was also a serious risk to other people.

Mr Jones added: “So, no – do not do it.”

This story has been corrected to attribute the comments regarding limits on personal information in covid-19 passports to Mr McMurray. They were originally attributed to Mr Jones.

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Published January 18, 2021 at 10:54 am (Updated January 18, 2021 at 10:54 am)

'Covid passports' on the cards for travellers

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