Africa: IATA Pushes for Digital Covid-19 Test Checks at Airports

Passengers could be exposed to inordinately long processing times at airports if travel rebounds to 2019 levels amid slow adoption of digital Covid-19 test verification by governments. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is asking governments to adopt the use of its TravelPass -- an application that eliminates the use of paper documents to verify travellers' Covid-19 test status.

Speaking during a media round table recently, Willie Walsh, the director-general and chief executive of IATA, said departure and arrival processing times for passengers could increase from the current average of 1.5 hours to as long as eight hours.

"If we continue using paper-based processes, waiting times would go from 1.5 hours to eight hours at 2019 levels of traffic," Mr Walsh said, adding that were that to happen, the industry risks collapse again because a majority of people would simply give up on travelling.

"Covid-19 test verification will result in massive queues because the process eliminates options such as online check-in. TravelPass can help verify compliance, but governments are yet to accept it," Mr Walsh said.

The airline lobby has been asking governments to adopt its TravelPass, a digital app that can display a passenger's Covid-19 vaccination status and PCR test information on mobile devices. The app directly picks test results from accredited labs, which eliminates paper documents and significantly reduces fraudulent Covid-19 test certificates. More than 100 airlines, two of them in Africa, have signed up to the App.

Adoption has been slow partly because of different digital standards. Only seven governments have so far accepted Travelpass at their entry points while another 56 are in talks with IATA. Ethiopian and RwandAir are the only African airlines piloting TravelPass while another ten are in discussions with IATA.

IATA says the industry is on a slow path to recovery and bookings for the second half of the year are looking up although still way below pre-pandemic levels. The recovery is driven by domestic travel in countries that have relaxed travel restrictions in tandem with Covid-19 vaccination.

Recovery across Asia is slow because restrictions remain in place with countries such as Australia still maintaining internal barriers to inter-state travel.

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