Digital health passports for verification of travellers’ COVID-19 test results makes debut in Singapore

As Singapore gradually moves to open up its borders to travellers, there is a need for rapid verification of COVID-19 test results, similar to those required for MICE and other large-scale events.

In a first of its kind, companies based in Singapore have manufactured digital health passports that are able to verify travellers’ COVID-19 test results, which will be beneficial as the country gradually opens up its borders.

At present, three local companies have been involved in various efforts in this area. Tech firm Affinidi is collaborating with government agencies and private sector partners on trials for inbound visitors, while two other companies are involved in trials for the scheduled Singapore-Hong Kong air travel bubble, which is currently on hold.

Digital health passports will enable secure cross-border sharing of healthcare data using technology akin to Blockchain, with the information readily accessible by clinics and hospitals.

People intending to travel can arrange to take a COVID-19 test at a designated healthcare provider whom then liaises with these companies which in turn issues a QR code indicating the test result, which travelers can then show to immigration authorities. 

Once scanned, details such as whether the laboratory providing the test is an approved one, type of test taken and date/ time will be visible. With information securely sent directly from the clinics, hospitals and laboratories to these 3rd party providers, users can be assured that the test results have not been tampered with while ensuring that sensitive personal health records are shared only with those the user chooses to share them with.

This would be one alternative to allowing access of centralised databases of medical records to countries around the world, which impacts data privacy and throws up possibilities of cyberattacks.

However, with a number of digital health passports already being developed by airlines, multinational organisations and private entities, one key issue to watch will be that of interoperability.

A spokesperson from Affinidi noted that the problem is that there are many different standards, which the relevant person will need to verify against.

Similar to credit card payment systems, it is unlikely that a single type of digital health passport will be in use. Instead, what is needed is “a single terminal (that) can read everything.

To this end, Affinidi has developed a web application it calls the Universal Verifier, which the company aims to use to allow different standard providers to be able to read the QR codes and display the result in the same way to the authorities, which will save a lot of time and effort required to learn different types of standards. The company plans to trial this in the region and hopefully make it a more universal solution.

According to the solution providers, these platforms have potential beyond international travel. It can be used for domestic travel as well. Moving on, other real-life applications include purposes of employment or participation at events.

Providers said these solutions can also be easily adapted if proof of COVID-19 vaccinations becomes a requirement in future. In the short term, it is hoped that having these digital health certifications will allow Singapore to open up the borders more rapidly.

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