Digital Covid-19 vaccine passport for South Africa — How it will work

The National Department of Health is developing a digital Covid-19 vaccine passport in South Africa, a departmental spokesperson has told MyBroadband.

This comes after the minister in the presidency Mondli Gungubele said that President Cyril Ramaphosa had instructed his cabinet members to look at the possible introduction of a Covid-19 passport.

Health minister Joe Phaahla also previously told the National Council of Provinces that the government was considering banning non-vaccinated people from public amenities.

“The opinion we are getting from legal people, that once there is sufficient coverage [of vaccinated persons], we should be able to arrive at the stage where we can actually make demands even at public amenities,” he said.

Limiting access to public amenities based on vaccination would naturally require some form of recognised proof of vaccination.

Currently, the only way to confirm a person’s vaccination status is through their physical vaccine certificate issued at vaccination sites.

Physical certificates may work in the short term but could be easily fabricated if there is no way to confirm that the EVDS number on the card is genuine.

The department’s acting director-general Nicholas Crisp told MyBroadband the first step would be a digital certificate for use within South Africa.

The digital certificate for local use will be a QR code-based solution that can be loaded onto a mobile app connected to the Electronic Vaccine Database System (EVDS).

People attempting to gain entry to a certain area will have to present their QR code linked to their vaccination record.

“Data is accessed off EVDS on request, and the requester is verified by OTP,” Crisp said.

“At the point of use, the vendor or checker will need to verify the expiry date and that the ID on the document matches the presenter’s ID.”

Instead of having the QR code on their phone, a vaccinated person could also print it on a piece of paper and have it scanned at points of entry.

This is aligned with the WHO’s guidelines on vaccine passports, which includes that the passports should not require a smartphone or computer.

“The link between the paper record and the digital record can be established using a one-dimensional (1D) or two-dimensional (2D) barcode, for example, printed on or affixed to the paper vaccination card,” the guidelines state.

Crisp explained that the technology for digital certificates was not the problem. The management and maintenance of queries and the costs associated with the call centre to support expected queries are the primary obstacles.

Those seeking a digital Covid-19 vaccine passport for international travel will have to wait a little bit longer.

Crisp said an international passport will be more complex and should be introduced in a later phase.

Travel virus

Tourism director-general Nkhumeleni Victor Tharage previously explained the key issue with this was a lack of standardisation around vaccine passports worldwide.

“Even in some jurisdictions that have opted to apply this [passport], there isn’t yet a sense of uniformity,” Tharage said.

“When we don’t have a single, standardised specimen, it is a little bit difficult to say which one is which.”

“If South Africa introduces [a passport], and there is access to information from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases [NICD] that confirms that a person has been vaccinated, the question is if that person arrives Lagos, what resources will they use to verify this information that is stored on a database in South Africa?”

Tharage stated South Africa would face the same dilemma when verifying international tourists that arrive in the country.

Now read: Western Cape considering mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations

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Digital Covid-19 vaccine passport for South Africa — How it will work