The availability of vaccines and ongoing evidence-based research to mitigate COVID-19 is allowing Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) to explore a variety of safe and efficient means of re-opening borders in efforts to revive economies.

One idea quickly gaining ground is a digital travel certificate.

The proposal to adopt digital certificates to facilitate cross border travel was raised at the Fifty First Pacific Island Forum Meeting held in August 2021 and enjoyed wide support among the representatives present.

While many PICTs have implemented various COVID-19 vaccine certification and required documents for travel, creating a digital one stop shop for information related to a person’s vaccine status, COVID-19 laboratory results and proof of recovery will facilitate seamless travel and border control.

A regionally recognised certificate, would help business and tourism travel within the Pacific region recover, while also lowering the barriers for the return of global tourists, which represent a major part of the Pacific economy.

However, the wide-ranging levels of internet connectivity, ICT infrastructure and digital health maturity across the Pacific represent significant challenges to seeing the vision come to light.

Bearing this in mind, Sunia Soakai, Deputy Director for the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Public Health Division, said PICTs will need to work collaboratively and quickly to find a solution, “The will is there, and the benefits are obvious. Our job now is to find a way to make it happen which aligns with global standards and ensures that the COVID-19 certificates are ethical, reliable, and internationally accepted.”

SPC is currently working with World Health Organisation in collaboration with a Technical Working Group and the information technology organisation Accenture, to develop a COVID-19 vaccination certification solution for cross border travel in the region through a proposed regional protocol agreement.

A series of workshops have been designed to deliberate on the legalities, policies, ethics, and technical composition of what COVID-19 vaccine certificates will mean for the Pacific Region.

These workshops will be attended by health, immigration and customs, civil and maritime transport authorities, police and border services, labour, tourism, foreign affairs, trade and industry, and economic development. Public stakeholders include the general public and concerned interest groups, members of the national chamber of commerce, overseas labour agencies, the tourism and travel associations.