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Vaccine passports - a guide to the different options - BUSINESS TRAVELLER

APRIL 02, 2021

As vaccinations are rolled out in many parts of the world, discussions continue about the possibility of having some kind of digital document to prove that travellers are protected against Covid-19.

It’s important to note that although often referred to as ‘passports’ none of these apps are a passport, and in any case a passport or identity card would need to be presented alongside whatever information is contained in the app. A passport is an official document issued by a government to identify a person as a citizen of that country.

These digital apps are ‘passes’ and simply hold information regarding the Covid-19 health status of travellers such as test results and, eventually, vaccinations. The passes are likely to appear as apps on smartphones, and would have to be recognised by individual governments to allow international travel.

Several different companies and international bodies are suggesting a variety of technological solutions at the moment to document and verify travellers’ health status, while carriers such as Ryanair have launched their own Covid-19 Document Holder systems.

Here, we round up the different passes on trial at the moment.

AOKPass

Who’s behind it?

The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) has collaborated with International SOS and the SGS Group to create this digital, secure and portable copy of medical records.

How does it work?

Once individuals have medical results, they can enter the information into an app to create a pass. A unique code is generated and shown to the individual and their medical practitioner for them to verify the information. They will then be able to show the QR code for verification at airports.

Where is it available?

Successful trials took place on flights last year between Abu Dhabi and Pakistan. Since then, the following airlines have started to use the technology:

  • Alitalia has begun a pilot scheme to digitise Covid-19 rapid antigen test results via the passport for flights from Rome to New York
  • Passengers travelling to Singapore from Indonesia and Malaysia can use the pass to show their Covid-19 test results at dedicated immigration lanes at Changi airport. International SOS states that this will be rolled out to other international travellers “in the coming months”
  • Etihad will  pilot the digital health passport on routes between Paris and Abu Dhabi
  • Air Caraïbes and French Bee will use the pass on routes from Paris Orly to the French Overseas Territories (Guadeloupe, Martinique, Guyana, La Réunion and Tahiti) from March
  • Air France is trialling the pass on routes from Paris CDG to Pointe-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe, and Fort-de-France in Martinique. This has been extended to include routes to and from Los Angeles and San Francisco for a four-week period.
  • Corsair will pilot the passport on routes between Paris and French overseas territories Pointe-à-Pitre, Fort de France, Réunion and Mayotte from the third week of March. Passengers will be able to store and certify the results of their PCR test on the mobile app for verification at the airports.

Is my data secure?

The AOKpass states that medical records are stored only on your device and will not be shared or stored elsewhere. The pass is verified without the need of showing any personal or medical information, and travellers can “choose when and where to share [their] information”. The information is secured using a “hashing algorithm so that it can’t be read by anyone else”.

Common Pass

Who’s behind it?

The Commons Project has partnered with the World Economic Forum to launch this digital health pass.

How does it work?

Lab results and vaccination records will be accessed through existing health data systems, national or local registries or personal digital health records such as Apple Health and Common Health. Individuals will need to consent to the information being used to validate their Covid status. The technology will then assess whether the results and records come from a trusted source and whether they satisfy the health screening requirements of the country they wish to enter. There will be a simple yes/no answer to whether the individual meets the entry criteria.

Travellers will receive a unique confirmation code that they can show at the airport to board the flight. Common Pass also states that those who lack smartphones will be able to print off a confirmation code and show it at the airport.

Where is it available?

The first trials were completed in October with Cathay Pacific between Hong Kong and Singapore, and United Airlines between London and New York. Since then, carriers including Jetblue, Lufthansa, Swiss and Virgin Atlantic have trialled the technology.

Cathay Pacific recently carried out another trial on a flight from Hong Kong to Los Angeles.

Is my data secure?

Common Pass states that it won’t reveal “any other underlying personal health information” and that Apple Health and Common Health “let individuals store their health records securely and privately on their phones, entirely under their control”.

Health Pass by Clear

Who’s behind it?

The airport biometrics provider Clear has moved into the public health arena in the US, launching a Health Pass within its mobile app.

How does it work?

This service is designed for businesses to keep employees and customers safe.  First, users must add an ID, and verify their identity with a selfie.  They can then complete a real-time health survey and upload Covid-related lab results directly from an approved lab provider. Once at a participating location, users should go to the Clear pod and undergo a temperature scan, and then show or scan their health pass (either by facial recognition or a QR code) to gain access to the location. The pod will show a red or green light to denote whether the user has passed or failed the screening.

Where is it available?

The Health Pass is being used by over 35 organisations across various industries.

Clear has also launched partnerships with the likes of MGM Resorts and the 9/11 Museum in New York to use the app to screen its staff for the virus.

Is my data secure?

The specific answers to survey questions or any specific test results are not provided to third party partners or employers.

IATA Travel Pass

Who’s behind it?

The International Air Transport Association has designed a digital health pass that will support the safe reopening of borders.

How does it work?

The mobile app contains information required by many authorities. The pass enables authorised labs and test centres to securely share test and vaccination certificates with passengers. Passengers can then create a digital passport and share testing or vaccination certificates with airlines and authorities to facilitate travel. In effect the Travel Pass contains the information to verify if a passenger is eligible to undertake their travel journey.

See how it works in the video below:

Where is it available?

IATA has recently partnered with Etihad Airways, Emirates and Qatar Airways to launch the Travel Pass for passengers.

  • Etihad will offer guests the pass on selected flights from Abu Dhabi in the first quarter of 2021, and if successful, roll this out to other destinations on the airline’s network
  • Emirates will launch the pass for customers travelling from Dubai in April. Travellers will be able to share their Covid-19 test status directly with the airline before reaching the airport through the app
  • Qatar Airways has begun trials of the app on its Doha-Istanbul route
  • IATA has also partnered with the government of Panama and Copa Airlines to trial the pass in March on select flights from Panama City
  • Air New Zealand has announced plans to trial the IATA Travel Pass digital health passport on flights between Auckland and Sydney from April. ANZ said that the trial will initially run for three weeks, with both crew and customers invited to join
  • Rwandair will become the first African airline to trial the IATA Travel Pass, beginning a three-week trial in April for passengers travelling between Kigali and Nairobi in Kenya
  • Malaysia Airlines plans to incorporate the pass into its own mobile app
  • Singapore Airlines is conducting a two-week trial of the app between March 15-28 for customers travelling from Singapore to London
  • Air Baltic will carry out a three-week trial for customers on the Latvian airline’s Riga-Amsterdam and Riga-Oslo routes
  • Virgin is to trial the IATA Travel Pass app on its Heathrow-Barbados route from April 16 for one month, “in close collaboration with the Government of Barbados”. Virgin has confirmed that it will be “the first UK airline to conduct a live trial of IATA Travel Pass”. The carrier also said it would also seek approval from the UK government to expand the trial, to allow for it to be used with customers arriving at the UK border on flights from Barbados to Heathrow
  • Hong Kong Airlines will trial the pass on selected routes

Is my data secure?

IATA says that the Travel Pass “will keep passengers in control of their data and facilitate the sharing of their tests with airlines and authorities for travel”.

Read more about it here:

 

IBM Digital Health Pass

Who’s behind it?

IBM Watson Health has designed a digital wallet product for smartphones.

How does it work?

The product enables organisations to verify health credentials for employees, customers and visitors entering their site based on their own set of criteria. This might include Covid-19 test results, temperature scans, and vaccine status. It aims to “bring people back to a physical location, such as a workplace, school, stadium or airline flight.”

Where is it available?

At the moment, the National Institutes of Health (part of the US Department of Health and Human Services) and Salesforce have signed on to trial the pass. Salesforce will provide individuals with “a verifiable and privacy-preserving way to manage and share their vaccination and health status in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic” via its Salesforce Work.com platform.

The State of New York has also began a pilot program of the health pass, with the aim to eventually provide residents with “a simple, voluntary, and secure method for showing proof of a negative Covid-19 test result or certification of vaccination.”

Is my data secure?

IBM states that the encrypted digital wallet allows individuals to “control what they share, with whom and for what purpose”. The company adds that, through the use of blockchain technology, the health pass can be “verified, trusted and tamperproof”.

The Mvine-iProov passport 

Who’s behind it?

Biometrics firm iProov has partnered with cyber security group Mvine to launch this passport. It is also backed by Innovate UK – a non-departmental public body funded by a grant from the UK government.

How does it work?

This technology enables people to register a test result or vaccination status without disclosing their identity. The medical professional administering the vaccine will be able to create the online certificate using a phone or tablet and then ask the user to have a selfie added to their electronic certificate.

The technology “does not discrimate against people based on the kind of smartphone they own, and there is a route for people who do not possess smartphones – i.e. a card-based method.

Where is it available?

It is currently being tested by Directors of Public Health within the NHS, with two trials expected to be completed by March 31, 2021.

Is my data secure?

The certificate is completely anonymous and “does not need to include the name, address, NHS number or any other identifying information about the person”. When the person wishes to present their certificate, they show for example a QR code and merely need to verify their face against the image attached to their online certificate using any mobile phone or tablet equipped with the app. According to the providers, “an individual therefore cannot be verified without their knowledge and consent… Apart from the certificate number and the biometric, no other identity information is required or stored online.”

Scan2Fly

Who’s behind it?

Air Asia has developed this digital health pass in partnership with analytics company GrayMatter.

How does it work?

The app aims to streamline health document checks and determine eligibility to travel. Passengers will be prompted to provide any documents required by the destination country and will then need to scan and upload medical certificates at the time of online check-in. AirAsia will then analyse the documents in real-time and either approve or reject the travel status.

Where is it available?

The technology has already launched on routes from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, Surabaya and Jakarta.

Is my data secure?

Graymatter states that its cloud-hosted system is “equipped with robust information security”.

Trust Assure

Who’s behind it?

Trust Assure is powered by US-based CLX Health, and provides a global network of Covid-19 testing partners and providers with over 15,000 locations across 50 countries.

How does it work?

Passengers can upload their test documentation in advance of their flight, where it will be “validated using AI, in less than two minutes”. Once confirmed, customers will receive a QR code with a “green verification”, allowing them proceed through check-in.

The provider states that the default life span of a Trust Assure pass is 30 days, so the consumer will need to be retested on or before the expiration date to maintain healthy status on the pass.

Where is it available?

From March 29 customers travelling on Virgin Atlantic’s five currently operating routes from Heathrow to the US (New York JFK, Los Angeles, Miami, Boston and Atlanta) will be able to verify their Covid-19 test results using the technology.

Virgin said that the Trust Assure solution had already proven “extremely effective” in development and trials by the carrier’s joint venture partner Delta.

Is my data secure?

The provider states that it is a “secure portal”.

Vaccine Guard

Who’s behind it?

The product has been built by tech company Guardtime and is based on a six-month collaboration with the Estonian government and WHO.

How does it work?

The network is an open platform which allows the secure and reliable sharing of information across systems and borders. According to the tech company, it “provides a feedback loop between all participants in the network for usage cases as diverse as counterfeit detection, vaccine allocation prioritisation, and pharmacovigilance.”

Where is it available?

At the moment, Estonia, Hungary and Iceland have signed up to pilot Vaccine Guard, with additional governments expected to join “in the near future”.

Is my data secure?

The company states that it employs “leading privacy and security features to protect patient and other sensitive information”.

Verifly

Who’s behind it?

Verifly has been created by software engineering company Daon and consists of a digital health pass app. The app is flexible and aims to cater to various traveller requirements, with Daon adding that it would be possible to add a vaccine credential into the Verifly service in the future.

The app currently has over 100,000 subscribers, and there has been a rapid uptick in the rate of adoption in the past few weeks. Daon is also in discussion with a number of other organisations in the travel ecosystem, including hotels, cruises and conferences whereby the health pass could be more broadly applicable.

How does it work?

The digital health pass streamlines verification of Covid-19 tests and other health documentation. Passengers will first have to consent to the terms and conditions, and provide their first name, surname and a valid email address. They will then need to take a selfie and verify their account by clicking a link in the email. Once validated, passengers can add a pass to the “My Passes” screen and view the necessary travel requirements and instructions for their destination. Users will need to enter flight details and travel details such as nationality and date of birth.

To fulfil the entry requirements for the destination they are travelling to, users will have to fill out forms (such as an attestation for the US, or the passenger locator form in the UK) and will be asked to upload a Covid-19 test result including information such as the date and time of test, type of test, lab location and confirmation that it’s negative. Only Covid test types accepted for the destination will be presented to the user.

Once submitted, trained staff will verify the information through a series of checks and ask the user to provide more information if they are unsure of its legitimacy. Daon is currently putting in place direct connections with lab and testing companies so that it can check the results more easily. Once checked, the app will then provide either a ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ message. The final step is a ‘pre-airport’ checklist that you have a valid passport, a negative Covid-19 test and that you are not experiencing symptoms of the virus. Once users reach the airport, they can present their pass by scanning the QR code at the checkpoint gate or showing it to a pass provider staff member.

Daon states that it is very easy to add new form types or update existing ones to abide by the ever-evolving government policies and visa requirements around the world. This might cover, for instance, the new requirement to declare the reason for travel in the UK – there are ongoing discussions on the exact requirements mandated by the UK government.

Where is it available?

The app is currently being used by British Airways, American Airlines and Iberia.

American Airlines introduced the health passport for travellers on all international routes to the US in January. This followed an earlier trial on select routes from South America and the Caribbean. The airline has said that thousands of customers have already travelled using the app.

British Airways begins the trial on February 4 on all of its transatlantic routes between London and the US (currently New York JFK, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Washington, Houston and Seattle). The airline states that a second phase of the trial will follow “in the near future”, allowing customers to use the app when travelling from the US to the UK with either BA or American Airlines. The focus is currently on routes to the US, but the airline states that it will roll out the service to other destinations in the future.

The app is a voluntary proposition and passengers can instead provide evidence that they meet US entry requirements at check-in should they prefer. The use of the app, however, will save time when travelling as users can fill in the paperwork at home rather than at the airport – there will also be dedicated check-in desks for certified customers. Previously the app could only accept the details of one user per device, but this has now been expanded to up to nine users, in what BA said effectively amounted to “a family pass”.

[Note that BA is also moving ahead with vaccine certification for travel, with passengers eligible for travel from London to India able to upload negative Covid-19 test results and other travel declaration forms directly into their booking on the airline’s website. This will be rolled out to more destinations over the coming weeks.]

BA states that, despite trialling Verifly, it will continue to work with IATA on the IATA Travel Pass and is hopeful for the integration between various apps to provide solutions to all the countries the carrier flies to.

Iberia has also begun a trial of the Verifly digital health pass app, allowing customers to verify Covid-19 test certificates before arriving at the airport. The two-month trial is running until April 23, on Iberia flights to Miami and New York.

Is my data secure?

Verifly states that its “design ensures the privacy of the individual and keeps the credentials and biometric data of the person on the device. Users have the ability to establish an identity and strongly assert that identity through the smart phone or biometric authentication.”

Users can also delete their account at any time, and all data will be deleted and cannot be restored.

Vaccination Credential Initiative (VCI)

Who’s behind it?

A coalition of health and technology partners including Microsoft, Oracle and The Commons Project.

How does it work?

It aims to allow individuals to access to their vaccination records “in a secure, verifiable and privacy-preserving way”. The coalition is developing standards for organisations administering vaccines to make credentials available in an accessible, interoperable, digital format.

Individuals will obtain an encrypted digital copy of their vaccination records to store in a digital wallet of their choice. VCI also said that people could receive printed QR codes with verifiable information.

Country-specific developments

Various countries around the world are also beginning to develop digital vaccine passes to allow citizens to travel abroad and reopen their societies.

China

China currently requires international arrivals to undergo 14 days of quarantine in a supervised facility, but has said it plans to unveil a vaccine passport that could exempt travellers from certain travel restrictions.

China’s foreign minister Wang Yi said Beijing is willing to explore reciprocal recognition of other governments’ vaccine passports, which act as proof of inoculation, according to the Global Times.

Travellers from Hong Kong and Macau inoculated with a Chinese or foreign-produced vaccine are likely to be among the first to benefit from such a programme. Although inbound international travellers will likely be exempt from China’s 14-day mandatory quarantine with a vaccine passport, they could still be required to present a negative PCR test result prior to departure.

Denmark

The Danish government introduced its plans for a “corona passport” in early February to facilitate the reopening of travel. By the end of February, Danish citizens will be able to see their vaccination status on an online health platform. This will be followed by a digital pass on your mobile phone which will include documents showing that you have been vaccinated. It is expected that the passport will be ready in three to four months time, and will be used for trips such as business travel. The government has not yet made a decision on whether the passport will also apply to other walks of life, such as attending a sporting event.

Morten Bodskov, Denmark’s Finance Minister, commented:

“It is absolutely crucial, for us to be able to restart Danish society, that companies can get back on track”.

Dubai

Emirates and the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to create a digital health pass.

Under the MoU, Emirates and the DHA will work to link the IT systems of DHA-approved laboratories with Emirates’ reservations and check-in systems in order to enable the efficient sharing, storing and verification of passenger health information related to COVID-19 infection, testing and vaccination – all in a secure and legally compliant manner.

The project has begun already, with the aim of bringing it to “live” implementation to benefit travellers in the coming months.

Greece

Greece has signed agreements with Israel and Cyprus to enable vaccinated citizens to move freely between the three countries.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Greek prime minister, said:

“I expect what we will be doing with Israel to be a trial run of what we can do with other countries.”

Israel

Israel’s health ministry has issued a “green passport” app which is eligible for people one week after the second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine or for those who have recovered from the virus.

Green passport holders can access hotels, sports and cultural events, swimming pools and places of worship.

Spain

Health minister Salvador Illa said that the country will create a database of people who refuse to be vaccinated, with the information shared with other European nations. The list would not be made public or accessible to employers. Speaking to La Sexta television, Illa stated:

“People who are offered a therapy that they refuse for any reason, it will be noted in the register… that there is no error in the system, not to have given this person the possibility of being vaccinated.”

Spain is also considering introducing bilateral deals with countries such as the UK to boost travel this summer, according to the country’s Tourism Minister.

Sweden

Sweden followed its Nordic neighbour’s example and announce that it will create a digital vaccine certificate to prove vaccination status. The Swedish government has stated that it hopes to have the infrastructure in place by June.

UK

Initially, the UK’s vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi said that the UK has “no plan of introducing a vaccine passport”, stating the technology would be “discriminatory”. Nevertheless, the UK is currently in talks to introduce vaccine passports for international travel, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirming that he is speaking to counterparts in the Singaporean and US governments regarding the initiative. IATA’s CEO Alexandre de Juniac also revealed that he is in discussions with the British government regarding such passports but that there is no planned date for the UK’s adoption of the Travel Pass.

While the government has repeatedly ruled out the use of vaccine passports on a domestic basis, foreign secretary Dominic Raab suggested that they might be used within supermarkets and restaurants when speaking to LBC Radio:

“It’s something that hasn’t been ruled out and it’s under consideration, but of course you’ve got to make it workable.

“Whether it’s at an international, domestic or local level, you’ve got to know that the document being presented is something that you can rely on and that it’s an accurate reflection of the status of the individual.

“I’m not sure there’s a foolproof answer in the way that it’s sometimes presented but of course we’ll look at all the options.”

The Times also reported that the NHS app is set to be converted into a digital Covid-19 health certificate to provide proof of vaccination or test results.

 

Cargo Airport: Positioning Anambra for More Investment - THISDAY

APRIL 01, 2021

David-Chyddy Eleke looks at the Anambra International Cargo Airport being built by Governor Willie Obiano, and how it can help position the state for economic prosperity

The people of the South-east are very well known for their involvement in economic activities, but Anambra people have also distinguished themselves as chief among others states in the zone in the area of business. With Onitsha, which is popular for its economic activities, also known as the commercial capital of Anambra State, while also playing host to the largest market in the entire West Africa, and then Nnewi, which is the state’s industrial hub, and also known as the Japan of Africa; one cannot but acknowledge the ingenuity of Anambra people in business.

The Anambra State governor, Chief Willie Obiano has however commenced a strong move to further boost the business ingenuity of the people of the state, through the construction of an international cargo airport that will receive and also export processed goods from Nigeria to other parts of the world.

Recently, the Joint National Assembly Committee on Aviation, comprising of members of the Senate and House of Representatives led by Senator Smart Adeyemi were at the site of the cargo airport project on oversight duties, and could not help but marvel at the enormity of the project and the quality of the job being put in place.

Adeyemi who led other senators and members of the House of Representatives from the aviation committee on the tour said, “I have been privileged to travel to a lot of countries, and each time I am in any airport around the world, I take out time to see what they have. I can attest that this is a massive project, and what you have just done is opening Anambra up economically.

“By doing so, you are also helping to open Nigeria up economically too. Aviation is key to development of any place. If you talk about economic development you must talk about aviation.

“I am not in doubt that apart from the length of the runway, the quality of the project here is key, especially being that it is a cargo airport that can take all manner of aircrafts. South -east are very enterprising people, and you have provided a platform for this region to reach its potential. I will tell you that whoever that will succeed you will have a job to do.

“The job will be to make this airport viable and not just for passengers but also for cargo. That person must start thinking of how to realise this. You have set the pace for your successor. I had been opportune to read about your exploits in the exportation of vegetables and other farm produce in Anambra State, and I believe that the inauguration of this airport will further open frontiers for more businesses for the people of the state, both in importation of good, and the export too,” Adeyemi said.

Adeyemi was not the only one who was sure that the project would impact on the businesses of the people of the state. The Chairman House Committee on Aviation, Hon. Nnolim Nnaji was also optimistic of the impact the project would make on the people. He commended the state government for the project and charged them to ensure the completion of the airport as promised.

Days earlier, the Director General and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Captian Musa Nuhu who was at the site for inspection had said, “I am amazed, almost speechless at the level of work and the level of compliance with our regulatory requirements and also with international standard and recommended practices.

“We have gone round the airport. We have a runway of 3.7km, with a runway safety area on both ends of the airport of about 1,000 metres.

“There is no airport in Nigeria that has a racer area of 1,000 metres at both ends of the runway, with two taxi ways. We have gone to the tower, the control tower is amazing, if not one of the best control towers in Nigeria today.”

Though it is an election year in Anambra, with the governorship election coming in months, the opposition parties and even aspirants to the governorship seat on the platform of opposition parties have not failed to compliment Obiano on the quality of the project.

For instance, Senator Uche Ekwunife, a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship aspirant, who is also a member of the Senate Committee on Aviation, who joined other senators to inspect the project expressed happiness at the vision of the governor.

 Ekwunife said: “Irrespective of political affiliation, when you see a good work you commend it. I want to commend you, my governor; to say that I am proud of this project is an understatement. I am truly very proud of this project.

“I want to say that for any viable business to thrive in any state, aviation is very critical. And I believe that this is a very very viable project and it’s a legacy project. I commend your government, but let me particularly commend your Commissioner for Works. Because no matter how good the intentions and the vision of the governor are, if the commissioner for Works is not doing well, it will affect this project. I saw the determination, the hard work, and the zeal when he was taking us round.

“I want to commend him. I commend the entire team that is putting up this project. On behalf the good people of Anambra Senatorial District that I am representing in the Senate, I want to express our good wishes to you and your government.”

 Obiano who conducted lawmakers and journalists through the projects exuded a lot of pride about the quality of his project, while assuring that the project would be ready for use by April, insisting that the airport is a one of a kind airport in Africa, with the length and quality of the runway, among others components.

He gleefully showed off the unique facilities of the project, saying; “This airport has the longest runway in Nigeria, except for Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos. It is 3.7 kilometers, and if you add the two racers, that makes 5.2 kilometers. You can land or take off from either sides of the runway, and as you can see it is a dual carriage way.”

 “This airport is going to be the very best in Africa, with a satellite lighting system, that cannot be seen anywhere else in Africa. We did this deliberately because we envisage that it is going to be a very busy airport. In five days, we would have finished everything about the runway. The apron is completed, the control tower is a seven floor architectural piece.

“The control tower has a lifespan of 300 years, while the parking lot is built to take 750 vehicles at a stretch. The project is one that any Anambra indigene will be proud of, and in one month’s time, the airport will be functional. It may interest you to know that we did not borrow any money from anywhere in doing this project,” he added.

Already, the business community in Anambra State is expectant of the opening of the cargo airport, with some business representatives who also undertook the tour commending the governor.

Chief Lawrence Ugwu, a businessman told journalists that besides the economic benefits the airport would have on businesses, thousands of people, most of whom would be Anambra indigenes would also gain employment into the project once it begins to function.

He added that, “As a cargo airport, our farmers who are already exporting vegetables to other countries would find a lot of ease of doing business, because before now, you have to process and take to Murtala Muhammed International Airport, and most times there is flight delay.

“But with this airport, they can schedule their flight ahead of time, and also supply to their international consumers early enough, and you can be sure that the quality of the vegetable would still be very rich, and more people from outside can now be placing demands. There will just be spiral effect on businesses in the state,” he said.

France Imposes 3rd National Lockdown As COVID-19 Again Surges - NPR

APRIL 01, 2021

PARIS - Calling the new, faster-spreading variants of the coronavirus "an epidemic within the epidemic," French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday extended a lockdown to the entire country and closed schools through the end of April.

In a televised address to the nation, Macron said a "more dangerous, contagious and deadly" virus surging in France left him no choice.

"If we are choosing to close down the whole country it's because no area of the country is spared," Macron said. "Everywhere the virus is spreading faster and faster and everywhere, hospitalizations are rising."

Gatherings inside and outside are also banned and people will not be allowed to travel more than 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from their homes. Macron said unlike the first confinement last spring, people who leave their homes will not have to fill out a form with the time, date and purpose of their outing. "We are choosing to have confidence in people's sense of responsibility," he said.

"Everyone has to make sure not that they close themselves in, but that they limit, to the maximum, their contacts, meetings and time spent with others," said Macron.

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The president's announcement was entirely anticipated. France's intensive care units are at capacity with more than 5,000 COVID-19 patients health officials say, and hospitalizations have already surpassed the second wave of this past winter. They are on track to surpass even the first deadly wave of last spring.

Over the weekend, several dozen emergency room doctors signed an open letter in the newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, warning that if something is not done, hospitals would soon have to begin choosing which patients receive treatment. "We cannot remain silent without betraying our Hippocratic oath," they said.

Jacob Kirkegaard, who studies health care systems as a senior fellow with the German Marshall Fund, says the new strains of the virus are forcing countries to step up their public health measures. Britain, Germany and Italy are also in various forms of lockdown.

"When COVID cases in a country are suddenly much more contagious, the lockdowns need to be adjusted and made much tougher," he said.

Kirkegaard said vaccinations in France have not yet increased to a level which would make a difference in transmission. Thirteen percent of the French have received one dose of a vaccine. Only 4% have been fully vaccinated. But Macron said the pace of vaccination would go faster very soon.

"We are putting all our means behind vaccinating, vaccinating, vaccinating," he said, "on Saturday and Sunday just like during the week." Macron said some 250,000 health professionals - doctors, pharmacists, veterinarians and fire fighters – will be involved in the massive vaccination effort across the country.

Over the last few warm, spring days, the banks of the Seine River in Paris have looked a lot like Venice Beach, Calif., with young people working-out and sunbathing, their masks under their chins. Macron said there will be patrols enforcing restrictions on alcohol consumption in public and plenty of fines given. Bars and restaurants have been closed since last fall.

Doctors say COVID-19 patients in France's ICUs are younger and younger, often without any underlying health problems. Macron said 44% of patients in intensive care are younger than 65.

The country's Scientific Council, which advises the government on measures to combat the virus, called for a strict lockdown in January. Macron defended his decision not to lock the country down then, saying people had benefitted from "precious weeks of liberty."

But he said the accelerating pandemic propelled by new variants meant France had to set a new course for the coming months.

Writing of the gravity of the situation this week in the newspaper Libération, Patrick Bouet, president of the National Council of the Order of Doctors, called on Macron to institute stricter measures. "The virus is winning and we have lost control of the pandemic," Bouet said.

France is now approaching 100,000 coronavirus deaths. "That's the equivalent of wiping the city of Nancy from the map," wrote Bouet.

FG opens premium passport processing centre in Abuja - NAN

APRIL 01, 2021

The Federal Government on Tuesday unveiled an express passport processing centre, also known as “Premium Passport Processing Centre”, to fast track the process of obtaining Nigeria passport.

Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, minister of Interior, while unveiling the centre said it would offer specialised services to only Nigerians desirous to obtain their passports within 24 and 72 hours, according to NAN reports.

Aregbesola said the centre was in response to the yearnings of the general public for the ministry and the NIS to devise additional ways that passport issuance process could be less stressful and more efficient.

He said the centre would offer value added service to all Nigerians, irrespective of their status; socially, politically and economically.

He, however, warned that services at the centre should be limited to the purpose it was created, while those interested in the normal service should patronise the conventional centres of NIS across the country.

“Every Nigerian has the right to a Nigerian passport and it is our responsibility to put it in the hands of anyone desirous of it within the shortest possible time without stress.

“The passport should be available in maximum of 72 hours of a successful application.

“Where there are issues, the applicant must be notified within 48 hours.

“A centre like this is necessary to reduce stress and by minimising human contact and this will eliminate the prospect of corruption.

“Further to the above, the sudden emergence of COVID-19 in our world today has not only affected our health, but it has also affected the way we do business and interact socially,” he said.

Aregbesola said that as Nigeria continue to adjust to the ‘New Normal’, the NIS, by the initiative, was decentralising the passport issuing process by bringing it to the doorstep of Nigerians.

The minister said the commencement of the operations of the world class facility would offer Nigerians services of convenience and pleasure by taking away the hitherto stress in the conventional passport offices.

“This will also afford Nigerians the opportunity of getting their passports within 24 hours, at the high premium service and 72 hours at the ordinary premium service, albeit with added value and a little bit of extra cost,” Aregbesola said.

He said that while the centre was in line with international best practice, it was also in conformity with the Executive Order 1 on the ease of doing business in Nigeria which was signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2017.

He added that the centre would also generate employment opportunities for Nigerians.

He said that the Maitama Passport Express Centre (MPEC) was a pilot scheme, adding that the goal is to have such facility in every county in the country.

While commending the leadership and personnel of the NIS for the laudable achievement and others recorded within the year, Aregbesola warned the service not to rest on its oars in their services to Nigeria.

“Our world today is at the tip of technological revolution. Nigeria cannot afford to be left behind.”

“It is in this regard that I urge you to continue to explore and develop innovative and technologically driven ideas aimed at repositioning the NIS to compete favourably with its counterparts all over the world without prejudice to national security.

“The NIS has no other choice but to rise to the challenges of our time and deliver efficient, effective and satisfactory service to Nigerians as nothing short of this will be entertained.”

The Comptroller-General of the service, Mr Muhammad Babandede, said the inauguration of the Express Centre was a step towards solving the problems associated with Passport administration.

“The Maitama Passport Express Centre (MPEC) is therefore, established to provide expedite and guaranteed service for applicants willing to pay a premium for prompt and convenient service.

“The centre will be non-judgmental and has provision for large comfortable VIP lounge, refreshment, queue management system and other necessary facilities to ensure comfort and speedy delivery of quality service.

“This centre will have a dedicated National Identity Number (NIN), registration unit and cater to the complete passport issuance process from enrolment to production for only Fresh and Re-issue passport applications.

“Other categories of passport applications including change of data, replacement of damaged, lost/stolen passport and others shall continue to be processed at the Service Headquarters and other approved passport issuing authorities,” he said.

According to him, in line with its statutory mandate, NIS last week posted out the entire staff of Amana Passport Office for negligence and complexity in passport administration.

He added that many of its officers were dismissed, deranked and some are facing disciplinary procedures for corrupt practices and loss of passport booklets.

Babandede further explained that the service would, however, not rest on its laurels as its remain committed to evolving into the best Immigration Service worldwide.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that highlight of the event was a tour of the centre facilities by the minister led by the Managing Director of the IRIS Smart Technologies ltd., Olayinka Fisher.

NAN also reports that presentation of first passport processed and issued at the centre was carried out by the Minister to one Lawani Temitope.

Temitope described the process involved as fast and pleasant, saying “I am happy to get my passport in less than 24 hours”.

‘Big three’ Chinese carriers lost $4.8 billion in 2020 - BUSINESS TRAVELLER

APRIL 01, 2021

China’s three largest carriers, Air China, China Eastern, and China Southern, lost more than 31.7 billion yuan ($4.83 billion) in total last year.

Despite efforts to control costs, the launch of all-you-can-fly deals, and a subsequent domestic rebound towards the middle of the year, the three carriers collectively burned through almost 100 million yuan each day in 2020.

Flag carrier Air China suffered from the biggest loss of 14.4 billion yuan, in part due to its 29.9 per cent equity stake in Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific. This alone accounted for over 5 billion yuan in losses.

Air China also has a large international route network, which has been considerably slower to recover compared to the Chinese domestic market, according to the Global Times.

China Eastern came second with its 11.8 billion yuan loss. A fresh round of outbreaks and lockdowns in Shanghai, its main hub, impacted traveller confidence and operations towards the end of the year, the Skyteam carrier reported in an earlier investor disclosure.

China Southern, the country’s largest carrier, recorded the smallest loss of 10.8 billion yuan. It was the only airline out of the three to post a modest net profit in the third quarter before plunging back into the red during the last three months of the year.

Airport security: FG approves N10.59bn contract for facilities upgrade - BUSINESSDAY

APRIL 01, 2021

…intensifies debt recovery drive

BY  Anthony Ailemen


The Federal Executive Council (FEC) on Wednesday approved a contract for the provision of Airport Management Solution for the Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Port Harcourt and Enugu international airports in a bid to strengthen the security around the nation’s airspace.

This is to avoid being taken unawares as recent occurrences had threatened security around some of the nation’s airports, including Kaduna airport that was invaded by gunmen.

Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, in a briefing after the FEC meeting presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, disclosed that some of the facilities which were hitherto limited to Lagos and Abuja airports are now being extended to cover all the five airports, while those of Lagos and Abuja are to be upgraded.

The minister disclosed that the system is expected to, amongst other benefits, enhance security at the nation’s airports, through the electronic surveillance and e-gates system.

These are access-controlled gates to restrict only passengers and staff access to designated areas. The e-gates provide a platform to monitor and control access into the airports including the boarding area.

“This is new and not part of the systems that were being provided for Lagos and Abuja before now,” Sirika said.

The contract was awarded in favour of Messrs Arlington Securities Nigeria Limited, in the sum of N10.59bn, inclusive of 7.5 percent VAT and to be completed in 12 months.

Prior to the approvals, only Lagos and Abuja airports had the Airport Management Solution.

The facility is expected to allow for flexible shared resources for check-in and boarding, such as servers, workstations, associated peripherals between all airlines and handling agents present at the airport.

“This service, as explained, will be in all of the airports, which makes it faster and quicker for passenger processing,” Sirika said.

The services will also be extended to Local Departure Control Systems and is aimed at assisting airlines that are still using manual procedures.

The system secures and accelerates operations at the airports while ensuring better service for passengers, including accepting mobile phone boarding pass or home-printed boarding pass, which was not existing before now.

Other benefits include Baggage Reconciliation System, which allows baggage tracking from arrival, while baggage are dropped automatically into the system and onto the aircraft itself.

“So this will eliminate the issue of missing baggage or mix-up of baggage to arrive at another location not intended,” he said.

The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed disclosed that Council approved the second phase of Project Lighthouse, which is a component that is meant to expand the debt recovery drive of the Federal Government.

Project Lighthouse is a data engine that collects, integrates and analyses data from revenue-generating agencies in order to create insightful information for improved decision making.

She disclosed that the government, through the process, has been able to aggregate N5.2 trillion worth of debts that are being owed to the government by third parties.

“As at today we have been able to recover N49.7 billion of this amount through the efforts of works we’ve been carrying out through Project Lighthouse and we’re still compiling,” she said.
Messrs Carter House Consulting, a Nigerian technology company, which has been working with the ministry for three years, won the first phase of the contract in May 2019 and also got the second phase in the sum of N316.5 million.

“One major area that we have witnessed remarkable progress is in terms of recovery of debts owed to the government. Generally, revenue loopholes have been aided by poor information sharing enforcement.

“So this Protect Lighthouse shows us that many companies and individuals who owe government agencies have refused to honour their obligations yet are still being engaged and transacted with, and even being paid on government payment platforms like Treasury Single Account,” the minister said.

The Federal Government had in 2019 issued a directive to all ministries, departments and agencies to aggregate and sent to the ministry a list of all debtors and their outstanding amounts that are owed to government agencies.

“This we have put together in one central fund that we call Project Lighthouse. Project Lighthouse has brought together data from the FIRS, the Nigerian Customs Service, the Corporate Affairs Commission, as well as data from BVN in one central pool. Also, we’re hoping we get data from three states; land registry data from the FCT, from Kaduna State, as well as from Lagos State and other states will also be joining in the second phase.

“So what this has done is enabling us to identify revenues that the government can collect and actually be able to use the common platform to collect some revenues. We’re leveraging this project to enhance our revenue collection capabilities,” she said.

High Airfares May Linger Till July, Analysts Predict - THISDAY

APRIL 02, 2021

By Chinedu Eze

There are indications that the current high airfares being charged on domestic destinations might linger till July when it is expected that Nigerian airlines would bring in more aircraft from maintenance facilities overseas.

THISDAY investigations revealed that currently there is paucity of aircraft operating domestic service at a time more people have chosen to travel by air due to insecurity on the roads.

THISDAY checks also indicated that air fares have increased further as the Easter season draws closer as one-way ticket costs between N60, 000 to N70, 000, and got as high as N85, 000 for economy class.

On Wednesday, March 30, 2021, the lowest fare was about N60, 000 for one hour flights and to all destinations, and as high as N85, 000 for economy class and business class was going to N150, 000 and above.

A travel agent who pleaded to remain anonymous, told THISDAY that, “There is no more average ticket fare now. Everything has gone up. I bought economy ticket for N60, 000 Air Peace, N65, 000, Dana Air.

“Arik Air tickets went up to N70, 000 and even the new airline, United Nigeria and Ibom Air are selling tickets at over N70, 000. They said the cause is the increase in price of aviation fuel.”

THISDAY also gathered that besides the fact that more people now travel by air and the price of aviation fuel has increased, Nigerian airlines do not have enough equipment that could reach equilibrium with passenger demand.

Some of the airlines have their aircraft ferried overseas for mandatory checks and were yet to be brought back because the maintenance facilities have not completed work on the equipment due to hiccups occasioned by COVID-19.

Spokesman of Air Peace, Stanley Olise, told THISDAY that there was expectation that more aircraft would have returned by July, saying that when more aircraft are brought in they would meet the passengers demand and tame the high airfares.

“I am hopeful. You know we have a lot of aircraft outside. By July many of them would have come back and likely the fares will come down,” he added.

But Corporate Communications Manager, Dana Air, Kingsley Ezenwa expressed doubt that airfares would come down in July.

According to him, besides the paucity of aircraft, there are other factors that influence airfares and these include increase in demand, cost of aviation fuel, charges, tariffs charged on aircraft spares and others.

He said since October last year airfares have remained high, not bowing to low or high seasons because consistent high demand has obliterated the traditional high and low seasons which peaks in December and comes down in January.

“I do not have 100 per cent confidence that the fares will come down in July or any time because a lot of things determine the increase besides the availability of more aircraft.

“More aircraft may come and may not have impact on the fares because more people travel by air every day. Some factors influence the price of tickets and these include duties, cost of fuel, demand and supply and exchange rate.

“So if by July all these parameters remain the same, airfares may not likely going to come down,” Ezenwa said.

He said the only way travellers could get cheap fares was to book their flights early, adding that once a passenger buys ticket one or two days to his flight date the fares are likely going to be high, adding that for domestic air travel, there are no more high or low season.

“Before now we used to have high season and low season. High season peaks in December and low season is January and after Easter the high seasons continues into summer; but since October last year the season has remained high.

“So that projection that fares will come down might not work. The secret is to book early. Plan your trip early. Plan early and get low fare. From the way the demand is rising, the season may peak till December,” Ezenwa said.

Industry insider said that more people travel by air despite the economic crunch because that is the only way to travel safely in the country.

Coronavirus: Dozens of MPs criticise 'divisive' Covid passports - BBC

APRIL 02, 2021

By Jennifer Scott
Political reporter, BBC News


Demanding a Covid passport as proof of a jab or test to access jobs or services is "dangerous, discriminatory and counterproductive", opponents say.

Baroness Chakrabarti warned the passports risked creating a "checkpoint Britain" as more than 70 MPs railed against their use in England.

Labour's Jeremy Corbyn and senior Tory Iain Duncan Smith are among a broad coalition who pledged their opposition.

The government said no final decision had been made on Covid passports.

But a series of Covid passport trials are being planned to test their use in different venues, the Daily Telegraph reported.

A review is taking place into whether passports could help to reopen the economy in England, with discussions also taking place across the devolved nations.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously said people could be asked to provide a vaccine certificate for entry into pubs in England, saying it "may be up to individual publicans".

Certification could involve people being either vaccinated, having had a recent negative test or having previously been infected, the PM said.

Baroness Chakrabarti told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It's one thing to have a passport to travel internationally, that is a privilege, even a luxury, but participation in local community life is a fundamental right."

She added: "To introduce two queues at the cinema, two queues at the football stadium going forward, is to introduce checkpoint Britain that so many of us just do not want."

The Labour peer, a former head of human rights organisation Liberty, said passports could see "policing power" given "to every bouncer or unscrupulous boss".

"It's a recipe for bullying, it's a recipe for corruption, it's a recipe for discrimination and it's not what we sacrificed so much for as a community over the past year," she said.

The plan could also "scupper things" for hospitality venues who are trying to reopen, Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said.

She told BBC Breakfast: "It is a difficult process for us to implement... and yet today we have not had a consultation with the government about how we would do this in pubs."

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said vaccine passports could also be used as a "tool in the short term" to reopen theatres and sports stadiums.

A cross-party group of MPs and peers have signed a pledge saying they "oppose the divisive and discriminatory use of Covid status certification to deny individuals access to general services, businesses or jobs".

The issue has brought together some unlikely allies, with many of Mr Corbyn's former shadow cabinet joining the lockdown-sceptic Covid Research Group of Conservative MPs in backing the campaign.

Accusing the government of "creeping authoritarianism", Liberal Democrats leader Sir Ed Davey said: "As we start to get this virus properly under control we should start getting our freedoms back. Vaccine passports - essentially Covid ID cards - take us in the other direction."

Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, added: "With high levels of vaccination protecting the vulnerable and making transmission less likely, we should aim to return to normal life, not to put permanent restrictions in place."

Privacy campaigning organisation Big Brother Watch also signed the pledge and published a report arguing against the measure.

The group's director, Silkie Carlo, said: "We are in real danger of becoming a checkpoint society where anyone from bouncers to bosses could demand to see our papers. We cannot let this government create a two-tier nation of division, discrimination and injustice."

In the campaign group's report - entitled "Access Denied" - it said if certificates were brought in, it would be "the first policy for decades that could see segregation imposed throughout the population".

2px presentational grey line

Unlikely coalition hardens opposition

Political opposition to the idea of Covid passports is hardening among some, even before the government announces its plans.

The unlikely coalition of more than 70 MPs and peers of varying political colours shows that the issue crosses party lines.

Boris Johnson has talked increasingly openly about the idea in general, perhaps trying to prepare people for what is to come.

But will principled objections to asking people to prove their Covid status scupper the prime minister's plans?

That depends on exactly what is proposed and how Labour and rebellious Conservatives respond.

If and when it comes to a vote in the House of Commons, the government can't be sure at this point that it will have the support it needs.

2px presentational grey line

The campaign comes after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer this week said the use of Covid passports to decide whether people can enter pubs would go against the "British instinct".

A government spokeswoman said: "The review is considering a range of issues, including the ethical, equalities, privacy, legal and operational aspects and what limits, if any, should be placed on organisations using certification."

Meanwhile, the prime minister is preparing to give an update on the UK's Covid situation on Monday.

He is expected to confirm that data suggests the next stage of lockdown could ease in England on 12 April and that a traffic light system could be implemented for foreign travel, with countries being categorised as red, amber or green.

More than 31 million people have received the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine and more than 4.5 million have had a second dose, according to Thursday's daily figures.

The figures also show there were a further 51 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test, bringing the total to 126,764. Some 4,479 new cases have been recorded.


Emirates Marks UAE Vaccination Milestone - THISDAY

APRIL 02, 2021

Emirates is keeping the trust in air travel and showcasing the UAE’s remarkable progress in its vaccination programme.

Owing to this, the airline would be operating a special flight on April 10, 2021, that would carry only fully vaccinated crew and passengers onboard.

The special flight EK2021 is expected to depart Dubai International Airport at 12:00hrs local time, to cruise over various areas across the UAE.

The flight will return to Dubai at 14:30hrs local time.

The one-off flight EK2021 is a unique event that not only celebrates the success of the UAE’s vaccination programme to date, but also highlights Emirates’ progress in vaccinating its staff and in particular its pilots and cabin crew.

The airline said aviation has been and continues to be an irreplaceable force for good, connecting people and cities, facilitating important trade flows and passenger journeys that bring economic prosperity and joy to millions of people.

Passengers would have the opportunity to experience Emirates’ newest A380 aircraft, which features the airline’s brand-new Premium Economy seats, and refreshed cabin interiors across all cabin classes.

“The Emirates A380 remains a customer favourite for its unmatched comfort and spaciousness. From the award-winning ice inflight entertainment experience, to the iconic A380 Onboard Lounge service for Business and First Class passengers, from a full-course gourmet meal in all classes to the friendly Emirates cabin crew, flyers can expect the full Emirates experience onboard this special flight,” the airline said.

Passengers travelling on EK2021 would be able to experience all of Dubai International Airport’s services and amenities on the ground before boarding.

In addition, the airline said customers could also try out first-hand, all the latest safety measures including the new biometric and contactless technology which Emirates has recently implemented at the check-in areas and boarding gates at Dubai airport.

As with any regular flight, customers for special flight EK2021 would be expected to arrive at check-in with their flight ticket, from three hours before flight departure. They would be required to bring their UAE ID or passports, as well as vaccination certificate. All customers travelling on EK2021 would be provided pre-departure rapid Covid-19 testing, free of charge.

How travelers who test positive for Covid can (legally) fly home fast - GLOBAL TRAVELLER

APRIL 02, 2021

Even the most meticulously organized vacation can be derailed by a positive Covid test.

Travelers may face unexpected quarantines — either in hotels or state-owned facilities — or substandard medical services. Others may be denied the ability to take commercial flights or, if negative tests are required to return, to get home at all.

Travel insurance can help defray quarantine and medical costs incurred abroad. But for those who want to fly home fast, that isn’t good enough.

How to fly home after testing positive

Launched in the spring of 2020, Covac Global transports people home if they have been diagnosed with Covid while traveling domestically or abroad.

The team behind the company also operates a crisis response firm called HRI, which conducts security risk and “traditional medical” evacuations, said CEO Ross Thompson.

The goal of Covac Global is to get our members home at the first sign of infection. Ross Thompson CEO, COVAC GLOBAL

“No other solution on the market would transport you or cover a pandemic or contagious disease,” he said. “Now a few do, but they all either have geographic restrictions and require you to be hospitalized or that it is medically necessary for you to be evacuated.”

Evacuations are triggered when a traveler tests positive for Covid and exhibits at least one symptom of the disease, which can be self-reported, said Thompson. Hospitalizations aren’t required.

Covac Global returns travelers to their homes or to a local hospital — not the closest port of entry — and arranges flight doctors and land and air ambulances, too.

“Going to the Covid-19 ward in a foreign hospital is a bad idea, both medically and psychologically,” he said. “The goal of Covac Global is to get our members home at the first sign of infection.”

Covac Global CEO Ross Thompson stands in front of aircraft. Covac Global has completed dozens of evacuations in the past year, from European cities to the Peruvian Andes, said CEO Ross Thompson. Courtesy of Covac Global

The key? Travelers have to sign up before they leave home.

Memberships are available to residents of the United States and Canada but will open to all nationalities starting in May, said Thompson. Rates start at $675 for 15 days of coverage, which can be used over the course of 12 months, and benefits begin two weeks after signing up.

“We are currently doing an evacuation of a family from Ethiopia back to the U.S.,” he said. “Last week we evacuated a family from the Maldives back to New York — we picked them up via speedboat from their overwater villa, and transferred them right to a waiting private air ambulance.”

Private medical evacuation for Covid is expensive, said Thompson, adding that transports can cost upwards of $200,000.

While there are no restrictions on travel destinations, memberships don’t cover travelers on cruise ships or who attend large-scale events.

What about CDC test requirements?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention require air passengers to present a negative Covid test (or proof of recovery) before entering the United States.

Extremely limited” exemptions are allowed for emergency travel, according to the CDC’s website.  

Covac Global’s services fit this exception, said Thompson, adding that the company has never been precluded from bringing a member home. Medical travel must be via certified air ambulance, under the care and recommendation of a physician, and detailed paperwork must be filed with the CDC, U.S. Department of State and Department of Homeland Security.

All-villa Jamaican resort The Tryall Club Covac Global works directly with resorts and villa rental companies, including Exceptional Villas, Hermitage Bay Antigua and Jamaica’s Tryall Club (shown here). Courtesy of The Tryall Club

“This is the only way a positive Covid-19 patient can enter the U.S.,” said Thompson. “We have had many people call up if a charter or even their own aircraft will be able to bring them home, and the answer is no.”

The Tryall Club in Jamaica partnered with Covac Global to ensure guests had “every option” available to them while on vacation, said Arla Vernon Gordon, a director at the all-villa resort.

Since February, nearly 40 guests have enrolled in the program but to date “no guest has had to use the service,” she said.

A cheaper option for travelers who get really ill

A positive Covid test won’t kick in assistance from travel risk management company Global Rescue, but a hospitalization will.

The company evacuates travelers who require hospitalization — for Covid infections or otherwise — and are more than 100 miles from home. Memberships are available to anyone, regardless of their country of citizenship.

Global Rescue has signed up more clients and partners since the onset of the pandemic than in the company’s entire 16-year history. Dan Richards CEO, GLOBAL RESCUE

Evacuations are to hospitals (not homes) in members’ home countries, and there are no Covid-related exclusions, such as vacationing on cruise ships, said Global Rescue’s CEO Dan Richards.

Short-term memberships start at $119 for individuals and $199 for families (which includes a spouse and up to six dependents).

Medical evacuation by medical transport company Global Rescue Global Rescue provides medical evacuation services for NASA and the United States Postal Service. Courtesy of Global Rescue

“Global Rescue has signed up more clients and partners since the onset of the pandemic than in the company’s entire 16-year history,” he said.  

Logistics involving Covid evacuations can “get tricky,” said Richards, adding that Global Rescue has evacuated Covid cases from remote regions, including a severe case from Guam to the United States.

For travelers in North and Central America

Medical transport company Medjet transports its members to a hospital near home, if they are hospitalized 150 miles or more from their primary residence.

Memberships are available to residents of the U.S., Canada and Mexico and cover worldwide repatriation. However, Covid-related assistance applies for travel within the contiguous United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, Bermuda and the Caribbean, said Medjet’s CEO Mike Hallman.

It can be just as difficult to be stuck in a hospital five states away as it is to be stuck in one halfway around the world. Mike Hallman CEO, MEDJET

The company added Covid-related services in October of 2020, he said.

“Unlike travel insurance, we have no specific exclusions like adventure travel, motorcycles, paragliding … so cruises are not excluded either,” Hallman told CNBC.

“We were also able to get a member home from Australia early on in the pandemic, during the global level 4 travel shutdown,” he said. “That had a lot of complications, but we worked it out and got them back.”

Medjet employees monitoring medical evacuations via computers. Medjet has transportation coordinators to track evacuation flights. Courtesy of Medjet

Memberships start around $99 for eight days of international and domestic travel coverage. People often buy memberships for “big international trips” and don’t think about them for domestic travel, said Hallman.

“It can be just as difficult to be stuck in a hospital five states away as it is to be stuck in one halfway around the world,” said Hallman.

Around half of yearly transports take place after travelers have returned from a “big trip safely and then had an accident or health episode while traveling domestically,” he said.

Ireland adds 26 countries to mandatory quarantine list, removes one - REUTERS

APRIL 02, 2021

DUBLIN, April 1 (Reuters) - The Irish government on Thursday added 26 countries to a list of states subject to mandatory hotel quarantine on arrival because of the coronavirus, but did not include additional countries from the European Union or the United States.

According to a report in the Irish Independent newspaper, the government had been advised by the Chief Medical Officer to add 43 countries including the United States, France, Germany and Italy to a list of jurisdictions subject to 12-day hotel quarantine on arrival.

A decision regarding "additional states will be considered in advance of the next Government meeting" said the Minister for Health and the Minister for Foreign Affairs in a joint statement.

The states added on Thursday are: Albania, Andorra, Aruba, Bahrain, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba, Ethiopia, Israel, Jordan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Lebanon, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Oman, Palestine, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Saint Lucia, San Marino, Serbia, Somalia and Wallis and Futuna Islands.

Ireland has some of the strictest travel restrictions in the European Union and last week followed England in bringing in hotel quarantine for arrivals of people from countries deemed "high risk" or those without a negative COVID-19 test.

Including the new additions, there are 58 countries on the "designated States" list, most of which are in the Middle-East, Africa, Central and South America.

Austria is currently the only EU member on the list.

Arrivals must quarantine for up to 14 days in a hotel room or can leave after 10 if they test negative for COVID-19.

Travellers from newly-added states will have to book accommodation for mandatory hotel quarantine if they intend to arrive in Ireland after 4 am on April 6.

The Republic of Mauritius was removed from the list. (Reporting by Graham Fahy; editing by Diane Craft)

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