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Last reviewed 3 May, 2021

Ever since the COVID vaccines have been rolled out to the Emiratis in December 2020, the concept of ‘vaccine passport’ has become the talk of the town. Several health experts, government officials, and academics across the country have been weighing in on whether vaccine passports should be used as a way to resuscitate the stagnated travel industry.

Here is everything you need to know about the COVID passport in the United Arab Emirates.  

COVID vaccine passport explained 

Not to be mistaken with ‘immunity passport, the so-called COVID passport is a means of verifying an individual’s COVID credentials which include their vaccination status, latest test result, and COVID recovery status for those who had contracted the virus. Vaccine passport, meanwhile, may be limited to showing only COVID vaccination status.

The vaccine passport works by granting users, airlines, laboratories, border authorities, and other relevant parties access to a globally shared database. Depending on the need, they could then extract or insert the required information from or into the database.


COVID vaccine passport in the UAE

The most prevalent type of the proposed COVID passports that’s been gaining ground has been in the form of a mobile phone application. Organizations such as IATA (International Air Transport Association) and WEE (World Economic Forum) are developing apps such as the Travel Pass and the Common Pass App to allow passengers to safely navigate international travel.

The UAE has wholeheartedly welcomed the concept of vaccine passports. Both its national carriers, Emirates and Etihad, were amongst the very first nations across the globe to agree to trial the IATA app.

In the Gulf region, the COVID passport might be similar to the UAE’s Al Hosn app. It will subsume all the vaccination data, COVID testing data, as well as details of the pre-travel eligibility requirements for the destination country. The app is expected to facilitate movement between the GCC countries, making travel possible for vaccinated Emiratis.


Vaccine passport potential benefits

As more and more countries are opening up their borders for vaccinated travellers, vaccine passports are increasingly viewed as the logical next step to reinstate cross-border travels.

For UAE, the hope is that vaccine passport will be able to streamline the verification process at the airport or border. The app will allow passengers to verify, store and share with the authorities all test and vaccination certificates.

As a result, passengers will be able to prove themselves ‘safe’ and travel seamlessly without any restrictions. Countries will be able to lax their regulations and testing requirements and welcome international passengers with open arms once again.

Going forward, it would also be theoretically possible to fully reopen schools and offices by utilizing the COVID passport. Restaurants, hotels, beaches, gardens, theme parks, tourist attractions, and all other public places may be allowed to work to full capacity for vaccinated individuals.

The apps will obsolesce the need to carry physical documents and grant credibility to the online certification.


Vaccine passport potential risks

First and foremost, it hasn’t been indubitably proven that vaccinated individuals can’t carry and transmit the virus to others. This means that even if vaccinated passengers don’t get sick themselves, it is still probable that they can pass on the infection to someone else, putting the locals of the destination country at risk.

The concept is questionable from the legal perspective as well. It encroaches on data privacy and inevitably gives rise to the possibility of personal information falling in the wrong hands.

The National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA) recently urged everyone above 16 years to get inoculated, bluntly stating that unvaccinated individuals may have to face stringent restrictions on their movement. It will thus create a rift between people based on their health status.

Moreover, the UAE government has laid down certain criteria for Emiratis to be eligible for the jabs, which exclude pregnant women and people with a history of convulsions, epilepsy, encephalopathy or mental illness, and coagulation dysfunction, amongst others. Such people in the society will be de-facto discriminated against- not because of their unwillingness to get vaccinated, but solely due to medical limitations.

Although the jabs are free in the UAE, they come at a cost in other countries, and not everyone would be able to afford the price. If the vaccine passports take the form of a smartphone app, those who do not own one may be left behind.


When will the UAE implement the vaccine passport?

The IATA Travel Pass app is now available on the Apple Store, though the Android version will take a little longer to be ready.

Emirates will start trialing the app “within few days” at the Dubai International Airport. Eithad, too, has launched trials of the app on flights from Abu Dhabi to various destinations in North America, including Chicago, New York, Washington and Toronto, until 31 May.