COVID Passports: Our Future?

Not that long ago, it was revealed that the UK government has invested £76,000 into the development of the so-called Coronavirus Freedom Passport. The Sun, who broke the story, quoted a Department of Health source who, allegedly revealed that the scheme was “exploratory work”.

Despite that, the mistrust toward the actions of the government are rising in the UK. Much has been said about how Freedom Passport and vaccine IDs could damage civil liberties, dividing up society by way of health status. The idea of living in a country in which a health card is the determinant of freedom is unpalatable. There are also fears that covid freedom passports would also open the door to immunity passes for other diseases.

While Britain is making its baby steps in attempt to develop the controversial Coronavirus Freedom Pass, some countries are well ahead of the curve. Estonia had developed and tested its first Immunity passport back in May.

Estonia Covid Passport rolled out and tested thanks to National ID card

The QR-code-based application created by the founders of Bolt and Transferwise among others, was cautiously tested in a selected number of Estonian Companies.

Estonia has been a poster child of the technological progress for a while now. The homeland of Skype, first in the world online voting system, and e-citizenship managed to quickly launch and roll-out the software. Not least because of its national ID card that already collects all information about the owner from health records to income details to outstanding fines. The Estonian citizen ID card offers up to 600 online services to any individual and over 2400 to businesses.

The first ID card was issued back in 2002 and so, there is an entire generation in Estonia who grew up reaping the convenience and the perks that the card offers. Need to collect your prescription? You can get it from any pharmacy in the country with just your ID card. Online voting in the comfort of your own home? Check. Online banking and tax return? Simple. All the information about your earnings and taxes paid by the employer is already in the system. No need for endless client and loyalty cards – it can all be linked to your ID card. You can’t even buy Euromillions without your National Insurance number. 

Vulnerabilities of ID card outweigh the ‘convenience’

The phenomenon is as common for us Estonians as paying a TV License is for Brits. The perks seemingly outweigh the concerns over one’s privacy. And the concerns are not just theoretical. In 2017, the hardware behind the ID cards was found to be vulnerable to attacks, which could theoretically have led to identity thefts of all Estonian citizens and also e-residents, something which Estonian government has denied occurring. 

It didn’t make us question the plausibility of the ID card, however. Estonian ID card is something we, as a nation, are actually proud of. Even the Track and Trace application HOIA developed by the Estonian Health department ultimately uses your national health records to register you as an active case and notify anyone who you’ve been in close contact with. 

All your coronavirus test results are logged under your national insurance number. With your permission, these records are shared with HOIA. The application developers admit that they don’t know how many people were notified by means of this application – only the number of people who marked themselves as ‘tested positive’. Nonetheless, the public seems to be skeptical towards the new innovation. With 1.3 Million citizens, the new application was downloaded only over 200 thousand times – an uptake of just 6,5%.

The issues with the Immunology Passport

The story is different with the Immunology Passport developed by company called Back To Work. The application was tested by a selected number of companies. One of them being Radisson Blu. The system was tested back in May and the initial testing phase has now been completed. We spoke with Radisson Blu Tallinn General Manager Kaido Ojaperv.

Mr Ojaperv confirmed to Ikon London Magazine: “In general, I think it was a good idea. We used it in the end of phase one to check our colleagues’ health status but that was pretty much it. It surely works where the status needs to be checked once but in our case, we had to update it on a daily basis. Yet nobody gives the test daily, therefore it became irrelevant after a few days. Soon after that the phase one faded and nobody was using those measures any more. At the wake of phase [two], we closed down. However, I believe “HOIA” app is much more widely used for the time being.

Kaido Ojaperv, Radisson Blu Tallinn Managing Director

In simple terms, the electronic immunology passport is not particularly effective in monitoring what part of a population is COVID-free at any given time. At the moment, no country has the capacity to facilitate daily or nearly daily tests of the entire population.

The purpose of the vaccination passport

The immunology passport, of course, would go a bit further. Its aim would be to record those presumed immune to coronavirus – either by having recovered from covid-19 or by having received a vaccine. But even this scenario does not offer a reliable solution, as explained in the WHO video. 

Quoting Chris Witty, the Chief Medical Officer, in this pandemic; “there are no good solutions – all the solutions are bad“, we can say the same about the idea of the Immunity Passport or Coronavirus Freedom Passport as it is referred to in the UK. 

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