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Heathrow and airlines test new coronavirus ‘travel passport’

October 9, 2020 Headline News No Comments Email Email

In one of two potential game-changers for travel, London Heathrow Airport, along with Cathay Pacific and United Airlines, have begun coronavirus passport trials, employing technology to let people travel internationally without fear of being quarantined.

The announcement coincided with a separate and equally fortuitous development by an Australian firm: a Covid-19 test capable of delivering results in less than 15 minutes. It is considered so significant by the US Government that the US National Institutes of Health RADx initiative has backed it financially, putting US$30 million behind it.

The two developments may help counter the dismay triggered by Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenburg’s post-Budget statement, when he told the National Press Club in Canberra: “International travel, including by tourists and international students, is assumed to remain largely closed off until late next year and then gradually return over time, and a vaccine to be available around the end of 2021 is one of the assumptions in the budget.”

Hopefully, science will leapfrog the Treasurer’s gloomy prognostications.


United Airlines and Cathay Pacific passengers are among those reported to be trialling a digital health pass app called CommonPass. The initial goal is to create a Covid-tested corridor between London and New York to revive international travel, the New York Times reports.

Backed by the World Economic Forum, the Geneva-based non-governmental organisation, CommonPass is described as “a global, interoperable framework aimed at safely restoring cross-border travel to pre-pandemic levels”.

CommonPass is said to use QR codes with built-in safeguards to ensure it is reliable and fraud-proof. You can watch a four-minute video explainer of CommonPass by clicking here.

According to the World Economic Forum:

The challenge: As countries around the world work to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic and restart their economies and tourism, they all face the challenge of how to reopen their borders and allow international travel to resume while protecting their populations’ health.

The current patchwork of policies and ever-changing border entry and health screening requirements has made international travel incredibly complex, leaving airlines and border agencies uncertain about the validity of test results and passengers unsure of what is being asked of them.

The solution: CommonPass aims to develop and launch a standard global model to enable people to securely document and present their Covid-19 status (either as test results or an eventual vaccination status) to facilitate international travel and border crossing while keeping their health information private.

Recognising that countries will make sovereign decisions on border entry and health screening requirements, including whether or not to require tests or what type of test to require, CommonPass serves as a neutral platform which creates the interoperability needed for the various ‘travel bubbles’ to connect and for countries to trust one another’s data by leveraging global standards.

For governments, airlines, airports, and other key stakeholders throughout the end-to-end travel journey, CommonPass aims to address these key questions:

  • How can a lab result or vaccination record from another country be trusted?
  • Is the lab or vaccination facility accredited/certified?
  • How do we confirm that the person who took the test is indeed the person who is travelling?
  • Does the traveller meet border entry requirements?

How it works: In line with protocols and guidelines from international organisations and standards bodies in the aviation and health sectors, CommonPass allows individuals to securely document their Covid-19 status electronically and present it when they board a plane or cross a border.

The framework will: 

  • Allow individuals to collect and store their health information securely and present their health status in conjunction with border crossing and travel requirements.
  • Support a range of health data inputs, including PCR test results and vaccination records.
  • Support a range of health screening entry requirements that vary from country to country and will evolve through the course of the pandemic and beyond.
  • Protect the privacy of individual health data.
  • Be interoperable across countries and regions.
  • Be based on proven, international standards and open technologies.
  • Be operated on an open, independent, sustainable, not-for-profit basis.



Brisbane-based biotech company, Ellume, has developed a rapid Covid-19 test that can deliver results in 15 minutes with 95% accuracy. The test requires no specialist equipment, so it can be conducted at any time – before boarding an aircraft, for instance, or at borders. Understandably, it has caught the eye of the US Government.

The US National Institutes of Health RADx initiative, established to accelerate development of rapid Covid-19 diagnostics, has put US$30 million behind Ellume’s breakthrough. The Australian government has apparently shown little interest, however, which means America will most likely get the test first.

“We are pleased to receive this funding through the NIH RADx initiative to continue the rapid scale- up of our unique technology during this critical time of need,” Dr Sean Parsons, Ellume’s founder and chief executive, stated.

“We are working intensely to expand access to fast, accurate and affordable testing for use in communities across the US, and this funding enables significant acceleration of our efforts.”

Supported under this program is Ellume’s at-home Covid-19 test, which the company says enables the average, untrained consumer to rapidly detect Covid-19 from home. No queuing up or hassle.

The test uses a Bluetooth-connected analyser in conjunction with the user’s smartphone to digitally analyse a self-collected sample from the user’s nasal passage. Results are transmitted through the user’s smartphone, together with a digital certificate of the results. Through a secure cloud connection, Ellume’s tests can provide real time reporting of positive test results for efficient contact tracing. Ellume has made this digitisation inexpensive and practical, opening many avenues for treatment and disease control.

Ellume’s new manufacturing facility in Richlands, Brisbane, will begin producing tests in coming weeks. 

Written by Peter Needham

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