Electronic vaccine passports on the cards for SA

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Vaccinated persons may soon be able to demonstrate their vaccination status with a digital vaccine passport, president Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed on Sunday evening.

This comes after health minister Dr Joe Phaahla said last week that vaccine passports were on the cards for SA.

Addressing the nation on Sunday, Ramaphosa revealed SA’s national Department of Health is considering a variety of mechanisms for such a process, including “electronic vaccine passports” that can be accessed using a smartphone or other forms of demonstration.

The president announced the country would move from adjusted alert level three to adjusted alert level two, effective today.

On vaccine passports, he said: "We will also be providing further information on an approach to vaccine passports, which can be used as evidence of vaccination for various purposes and events.”

As other countries’ vaccination rollout programmes gather steam, there’s also been ramped-up efforts to introduce a COVID-19 health passport system.

The vaccine passport or certificate is a single document issued to all those who have been fully vaccinated against the virus. It can be issued in both a paper and digital format.

For example, the European Union (UE) has made available its COVID-19 passport for all EU citizens and residents, as well as for specific categories of travellers from third countries, since 1 July. In Scotland, reports indicate that people who have had two vaccines can already download or get a paper copy of a certificate with a QR (quick response) code.

Last Friday, health minister Phaahla noted the country had commenced with the development of a digital vaccination certificate to confirm that a person has been vaccinated.

“We are aware of the debate around vaccination passports, which is required by some countries for international travel. In our country, we haven’t gone that route,” he said. “We only require a less than 72-hour-old PCR COVID-19 test for people leaving or entering South Africa.”

The minister explained that government has made sure the certificate will be protected from fraud and will be uploaded on people’s smartphones and can be printed.

“This initiative is in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO)-initiated vaccination certificate. Through this, WHO is attempting to standardise vaccination proof all over the world so that it cannot be defrauded.”

According to Phaahla, the vaccine passports or certificates will be made available to those recently vaccinated and those vaccinated several months ago, as long as their personal information is reflected in the electronic vaccination data system.

He emphasised that government has no intention to require people in future to produce these certificates to access public services. “The certificates may be useful for access to entertainment, sports and other events, but definitely not essential and public services.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa.
President Cyril Ramaphosa.

South Africa is slowly emerging from the throes of the third wave of COVID-19 infections, which saw the Delta variant of the virus wreak havoc in the country and its health sector.

At its peak, the country recorded more than 10 000 daily infections.

Although the third wave is not yet over, Ramaphosa said there has been a sustained decline in infections across the country over the last few weeks.

The average number of daily new infections over the last week is 29% lower than the preceding seven days and 48% lower than the seven days before that, he noted.

The president once again stressed the importance of being vaccinated, saying people who are vaccinated against COVID-19 are far less likely to die of the disease.

“If many people are not vaccinated and remain vulnerable to infection, the chance of new and more dangerous variants emerging is far greater. That is why vaccines are currently the most potent weapon we have to fight this pandemic.

“When we are vaccinated, we will be able to return our economy to full operation and create the jobs that our country needs.

“Importantly, when we are vaccinated, we will be able to restore all our other critical health interventions and relieve the strain on our health workers.”

To date, over 14 million in total have been vaccinated, with the total number of individuals with at least one jab standing at 10.5 million.

Out of the 10.5 million figure, just over seven million people in SA are fully vaccinated, constituting 17.64% of the adult population.

According to Phaahla, the health department needs to reach another 18 million more adults in order to achieve the 70% coverage of the adult population by December.

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