SA’s hand-written vaccination documents may not be acceptable abroad.
Travellers will need more than a visa to travel to some destinations abroad as many countries start to implement various vaccination “passports”. Unlike many other countries, South Africa has not established a digital or online way of verifying vaccinations, which means travellers may find their hand-written local vaccination documents may not be acceptable abroad – and they may be force to quarantine at extra expense and have additional Covid tests.
One place likely to be on vaccinated South Africans’ planned travel list is Mauritius, which allows visitors who have had a full course of vaccinations.
Last week, the BBC reported more countries were considering turning to “Covid passports” as a way of opening up. The countries making use of similar access passes include the UK, where citizens are using the NHS Covid Pass that allows fully vaccinated adults to avoid quarantine when they return from most amber list countries.
The BBC also reported that a European Union vaccine “passport” was being introduced across all 27 member nations, as well as Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein.
According to the report, China introduced a QR code system last year categorising people into different colours.
Professor Christiaan Bezuidenhout, who is leaving for the US next week, said: “I have to be fully vaccinated before going on the trip.”
Bezuidenhout has to undergo a Covid test three days before departing. “When we arrive in America, I need to test again and in my case, because I am vaccinated, I will have to isolate for three days.”
Those not fully vaccinated have to isolate for a week.
Sue Garrett, general manager of supply, pricing and marketing for the Flight Centre Travel Group, said there was no industry or government standard in place when it came to an approved vaccination document for international travel.
“Canada, for example, requires that you register your proof of vaccination in ArriveCan before reaching their border. Switzerland requires a Covid certificate showing proof of full vaccination and where this is not available, they require a document that includes first name, last name, date of birth, date of vaccination and the name of the vaccination administered.”
Garrett added that South Africans were being issued with a vaccination card which, in most cases, was handwritten.
Public health lawyer Safura Abdool Karim said there had been discussion about what the arrangements should be when people were travelling during the pandemic, now that vaccines were available. “One of the big discussion points has been should there be something like an immunity passport.”
Abdool Karim said so far there had not been any announcements from any of the major organisations like the World Health Organisation or regional bodies about vaccine passports. “South Africa has previously implemented one, for yellow fever, so it is possible to do it,” Abdool Karim said.
She said the concern about vaccine passports was that many low-income countries had not been able to vaccinate large parts of the population. “If we are thinking of introducing a vaccine passport we need to make sure not to discriminate against people who haven’t been able to get a vaccine because they live in a lower-income country.”
The department of health was asked to comment but had not responded by the time of going to press.