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Enabling cross border travel during a pandemic

May O5, 2020


Several industries have been hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic. Malls and shopping centres are temporarily shut down, affecting the retail and e-commerce industries. The entertainment industry is also seeing a huge decline as movie theatres are being shut down. The NBA has suspended its season after a player was tested positive for COVID-19 and the Arsenal Football Club has placed its players in self-isolation and postponed the Manchester City game. The strict emphasis on the need for social distancing means that everyone is expected to stay at home. This means that the travel industry will bear the brunt of the infection as countries impose travel bans all over the world.

The pandemic’s impact on domestic and international travel

We can see a major impact on domestic traffic growth as domestic travellers have started cancelling or rescheduling their tickets. Many organizations have reported a 30 per cent or more drop in domestic travel this summer compared with last year. There has also been a 20-25 percent reduction in airfare for all of the popular domestic routes. Ticket prices are expected to stay at an all time low for the summer season as well. 

The latest data from the United Nations specialized agency for tourism states that 100% of destinations have imposed travel restrictions. Out of this, 83% have had restrictions related to COVID-19 in place for four or more weeks and so far, no destination has lifted them.

Ever since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a pandemic, the restrictions imposed by the governments on travel are becoming tougher.  The most recent report shows that, out of 217 destinations worldwide:

  • 45% have completely or partially closed their borders for tourists - “Passengers are not allowed to enter”

  • 30% have suspended international flights - “all flights are suspended”

  • 18% are banning the entry for passengers from specific countries of origin or passengers who have transited through specific destinations

  • 7% are applying different measures, such as quarantine or self-isolation for 14 days and visa measures.
  • If the pandemic continues for several more months, the World Travel and Tourism Council estimates a global loss of 75 million jobs and $2.1 trillion in revenue. According to the WTTC, the equivalent to a loss of three months of global travel in 2020 could lead to a corresponding reduction in jobs of between 12% and 14%. Cash reserves of airline companies are running low and many are almost at the brink of bankruptcy. 

    How has the global economy been affected? 

    Many retail stores, hotels and restaurants are experiencing a dip in their sales while some of them are shutting down completely. Travel restrictions are curtailing revenue for the aviation and hospitality industry as well as smaller businesses that depend on revenue from tourism. 

    People who are working in industries that aren’t included in the list of the most affected are also experiencing secondary effects of social distancing. The manufacturing industry will experience a lesser number of orders and banks may have to absorb more loan defaults as a portion of its customer base loses work.

    People have started losing their jobs as businesses are losing their income streams. This fear of unemployment and loss will result in individuals limiting their purchases in case the financial aftershock isn’t able to be contained. Economists and financial experts have come to a unanimous agreement that the economy will see a severe economic collapse due to the pandemic. This can include extended depression with high levels of bankruptcy and growing unemployment (such as the Great Depression of the 1930s), to a breakdown in normal commerce. Early estimates have predicted that most major economies will suffer a loss of at least 2.4 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020. 

    The severity of the economic impact will depend on two primary factors - the duration of restrictions on the movement of people and economic activities in major economies; and the actual size and efficacy of fiscal responses to the crisis.

    Challenges and risks in opening up travel

    If governments lift travel restrictions and allow people from different countries to enter their borders, there is a very large chance that a person coming from another country will unknowingly bring the virus into the destination country. This means that the restrictions imposed on travel will have to stay in place until the virus is completely eradicated from all around the world. However, this would severely affect the economy. There are many people who are stuck in foreign countries due to closed borders and this means that governments will need to open their borders at some point irrespective of the risks of infection. In such a scenario, how will we be able to enable cross border travel? 

    The only way to do this would be to issue a digital pass according to the health status of the holder. The pass would indicate whether the person is infected by the virus or not. This would allow governments to screen healthy travellers from infected ones. 

    Pandemic Proof Passport 

    Rebuild The Chain, a pandemic management system developed by Accubits has a Pandemic Proof Passport feature that enables countries to open up their borders for travel even if there is a pandemic going on. This feature provides users with a health card that is generated after exposure analysis and a health diagnosis by the local health authorities. The people who have a ‘No Risk’ health card will be able to travel overseas. The user can simply scan the QR code at an airport or at public areas to confirm their health status for the authorities. 

    This card is easily verifiable and extremely secure with permissioned data access. The main steps that are followed while issuing a health card are as follows:

    Exposure analysis

    The feature conducts an exposure analysis of users  based on their recent activities such as places visited, people contacted, etc

    Health Diagnosis

    Based on the exposure analysis and health diagnosis conducted by local health departments, the health status of the user is defined

    Health Card Generation

    A user’s health-card will be a QR code. They can take printouts of the QR code and keep it with the passport, or show the QR code in the mobile application upon request by authorities.

    Health Status Validation

    The user can show a Health Card to authorities who want to check the health status. Upon scanning the QR code, health status and an identification photo of the user will be made

    The platform is implemented such that all the data is securely stored and abides by the data and privacy laws of the region. Data that is related to the location, and routing are stored on secure and encrypted servers in each country, complying with the official data protection laws. The actual data remains with the user while only a hashed form of it is stored on the network. Needless to say, it is of utmost importance that governments begin implementing such platforms to enable domestic and international travel. Countries will need to reopen their borders soon, and this cannot be done without placing certain security measures to ensure that the spread of infection is contained. 

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