Why a Covid-19 vaccine could be an essential trip by 2022


The world is shrinking fast for unvaccinated travelers. Photo / Getty Images

The “surprise” announcement that the United States will open its border to vaccinated visitors came with little warning but not unprecedented.

Countries like Israel and even the Cook Islands have already said they want proof of Covid vaccination before the Kiwis book a trip there. However, the United States is by far the largest country to offer non-quarantine travel based on vaccine history.

White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeffrey Zients had been working on a project to streamline complex entry requirements for at least the beginning of the month. However, Monday’s announcement was not expected.

Zients said his “new system” was intended to replace the mishmash of quarantine requirements and outright travel bans that had been in place since the last administration.

This has led travelers from Europe, UK, India, China and other countries to forgo travel to America or face long 14-day layovers in third countries.

Vaccines are a condition of New Zealand's goal of offering quarantine-free travel by the middle of next year.  Photo / File
Vaccines are a condition of New Zealand’s goal of offering quarantine-free travel by the middle of next year. Photo / File

Yesterday, he announced that by November, the United States would welcome vaccinated travelers.

“This is based on individuals rather than a national approach, so it’s a stronger system,” Zients said.

Fully vaccinated passengers will not be required to self-quarantine, he said.

While the news has been best received by transatlantic airlines such as British Airways, it looks like vaccine-based entry requirements are likely the norm for international travel.

Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss called it a “big step” for travel in general.

It’s a flight path out of the confusion of international travel in the midst of a pandemic. Yet there are still questions to be resolved before the wheels turn around international vaccine-based travel and borders are reopened.

<a class=Vaccinated tourists can already take a vacation in Phuket’s quarantine “sandbox”. Baba Beach Club, Phuket, Thailand. Photo / Supplied” class=”article-media__image responsively-lazy” data-test-ui=”article-media__image”/>
Vaccinated tourists can already take a vacation in Phuket’s quarantine “sandbox”. Baba Beach Club, Phuket, Thailand. Photo / Supplied

We have come back to the question of how passengers will be able to take proof of vaccination.

Will it be a standardized document such as the ‘vaccine passport’ plugged in by airlines or will we have to be mindful of countries that might use a Kiwi vax stamp?

The Department of Health currently says it is “unable to guarantee that other countries will recognize your Covid-19 vaccination letter as formal proof of vaccination.”

In November, will a paper vaccination letter be enough to open the door to vaccinated travelers going abroad?

Where you need a vaccine passport to visit

Israel was one of the fastest to adopt the vaccination passport system. Vaccinated travelers returning from low-risk countries were only required to self-isolate for 24 hours, compared to 14 days for unvaccinated returnees.

Visas are granted for some travelers to Israel, but your letter from the Ministry of Health won’t get you far. Currently, the country only accepts records from people vaccinated in Israel.

Singapore is another popular port of call for Kiwi travelers. New Zealand was one of the few destinations from which non-quarantine trips were until recently. There is currently a seven-day isolation period (or home stay notice) for New Zealand visitors to any address of their choice.

However, since the start of this month, a vaccinated travel passport has opened the country to visitors from Germany and Brunei. Vaccinated taxiways (VTLs) have been opened at airports to allow visitors to bypass quarantine, with negative results on pre-departure and arrival tests.

In a pilot phase, the VTL is not yet open to Kiwi travelers. The aim is to digitize the process to allow more vaccinated visitors to come from other countries.

Singapore is testing vaccinated travel routes for some international visitors.  Photo / Lincoln Tan
Singapore is testing vaccinated travel routes for some international visitors. Photo / Lincoln Tan

Phuket’s “sandbox” is Thailand’s proving ground for vaccinated travelers.

In July, Thailand opened the island resort to fully vaccinated recreation visitors, and similar programs were launched in Koh Samui and Koh PhaNgan. While tourists can enjoy Phuket Beach without quarantine, it is in fact a glamorous secluded resort.

Tourists wishing to visit the rest of Thailand will be subject to testing and possible quarantine.

The list of risks

Morocco is one of the countries already making the difference between vaccinated and unvaccinated tourists. Visitors from high-risk “red list” countries will be able to bypass 10 days of managed quarantine with proof of vaccination.

While the United States has announced it will open borders to vaccinated tourists, many countries are already requiring American visitors to be given a double shot.

Many European countries and even neighboring Canada require proof of vaccine for visitors from the United States who remain on their “high risk” lists.

Last week, the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands announced that when the non-quarantine bubble resumes with New Zealand, it will only accept visitors who have been vaccinated.

New Zealand?

Even vaccinated travelers are currently required to book a full MIQ when returning to New Zealand.

“No matter what vaccine you received overseas or in New Zealand, restrictions still apply at the New Zealand border,” the health ministry said.

However, the plan to develop digital vaccination certificates and risk-adjusted entry pathways for entry into New Zealand suggests that a vaccine-based entry system could be put in place from here early next year.

Last month, in the optimistically named ‘Plan to Reconnect New Zealand to the World‘, the prime minister’s office said risk-based individual border restrictions would be in place by early 2022.

Restrictions could still be in place with Covid testing and isolation requirements for ‘high-risk’ countries. A 14-day quarantine would be required for all visitors returning from these countries, including those with proof of vaccination.

However, the ultimate goal was to provide something resembling open borders for travelers from approved and “safe” countries.

“The low-risk route will allow entry without quarantine for vaccinated travelers who have stayed in low-risk countries,” the Prime Minister said.

But what will pass as “proof of vaccination” for inbound travelers has yet to be established.


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