The Association of Southern African Travel Agents (Asata) is optimistic about the announcement by Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla that South Africa will roll out digital vaccine certificates for vaccinated South Africans.
The Minister announced that vaccinated South Africans will be able to upload their digital certificate on their smartphones and print their certificates if needed.
Asata has been lobbying for the establishment of such an initiative in South Africa, recognising that a digital vaccination certification will be an important criterion for any outbound travel.
“We are pleased that South Africa will be instituting a digital vaccine certificate and we are liaising with the Department of Health to ascertain the extent to which it delivers on the requirements that are set by our primary markets.
“It is imperative that this certification be aligned with international standards and that the government policy of accepting digital vaccination certificates of inbound travellers similarly be aligned with international best practice so that we can facilitate smooth and seamless inbound and outbound travel to and from South Africa,” explains Asata CEO Otto de Vries.
He notes the global move towards requiring digital vaccination certificates for access to sporting events, to participate in leisure and lifestyle activities and travel.
“We already see this happening overseas and can expect that there will be businesses in South Africa that limit access to patrons and guests who can show their vaccination status through digital vaccination certification,” he says.
De Vries warns, however, that the South African digital vaccination certificate must be aligned with a global standard and consider international criteria such as those set out by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
“We need globally recognised, standardised and inter-operable digital certificates both for Covid-19 testing and vaccine certificates. Governments around the world need to stop acting in isolation and agree on a standardised approach to international travel criteria and requirements, including digital health certificates.”
De Vries believes that only then will these certificates have the potential to significantly reduce the red tape and administration that is currently necessary when travelling overseas.
It would be the start of a safe, convenient, consistent and efficient restart of travel.
Further to easing travel requirements, De Vries highlights the need for government to change its policy to differentiate between vaccinated and non-vaccinated travellers.
“Travellers who can provide proof of vaccination should be allowed access to and from the country without a Covid-19 test. Conversely, those who are partly or not vaccinated yet should still be required to show a test result with a validity of 72 hours on departure and arrival,” De Vries states.
The International Air Transport Association recently warned of potential airport chaos unless governments move quickly to adopt digital processes to manage passenger travel health credentials (Covid-19 testing and vaccine certificates) and other Covid-19 measures.
Before the pandemic hit, passengers, on average, spent 1.5 hours in travel processes for every journey – including check-in, security, border control, customs and baggage claim.
Current data indicates that airport processing times have ballooned to three hours during peak travel times, with travel volumes at only about 30% of pre-Covid-19 levels.
The announcement of a South African digital health certificate comes as the Department of International Relations and Cooperation says it is stepping up its lobbying for the removal of South Africa from the UK red list.
International Relations and Cooperation Minister Dr Naledi Pandor says her department is in talks with the British government and that plans are being finalised for government to “significantly increase its lobbying efforts to ensure that South Africa is removed from the UK's red list soonest”.