The federal government will start issuing vaccine passports within weeks after cabinet ministers promised a return to international travel once 80 per cent of adults have been fully vaccinated.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has pledged to ease travel restrictions on fully vaccinated Australian citizens and permanent residents once that target has been met, with vaccine passports crucial to the plan.
And states are designing new tools to enable patrons to prove their vaccination status when checking into pubs, bars and restaurants.
So how will the vaccine passports and check-in apps work?
Vaccine passports on the way
At a press conference on Wednesday, Trade Minister Dan Tehan confirmed that resuming international travel at 80 per cent vaccination rates was now a “key part” of the national reopening plan.
Current estimations from COVID Live suggest Australia will hit that target on November 19, but Australians could have a vaccine passport to show they are safe to travel as early as October.
The federal government has yet to finalise details on the vaccination passport, but it is expected to be housed in an app on a participant’s phone and embedded into physical passports, according to Nine News.
The Department of Health did not respond to The New Daily’s questions at the time of writing.
The passport will contain the same personal information as a normal passport, with the addition of a QR code to verify your vaccination status. You will be required to show it to other countries’ border officials.
The federal government previously stated it would only allow international travellers to enter Australia if they have received a vaccine recognised by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
But which countries will accept fully vaccinated Australians is up in the air.
According to the ABC, government officials are working to make sure countries will accept fully vaccinated Australians with AstraZeneca within international travel bubble arrangements, despite it not being used in other nations like the United States.
The US accepts fully immunised people who have received US-approved vaccines or jabs approved for emergency use by the World Health Organisation, which includes AstraZeneca.
A plan was initially put to the federal cabinet in July to link people’s vaccination status on their MyGov accounts with an internationally accepted vaccine certificate.
It was proposed to use “visible digital seal” technology approved by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
Proof of vaccination check-in apps
Domestic use of vaccine certificates is expected to come into effect before international travel has returned, and could be trialled in New South Wales before the end of the month as pubs, cafes and shops prepare for the return of vaccinated customers.
Some have referred to them as domestic vaccine passports.
Australians can currently access proof of vaccination certificates through the Commonwealth government service Medicare, but there is no national plan for a singular vaccine certificate system.
Instead, it’s up to the states to take up the initiative to develop domestic vaccine certification by integrating it within existing apps, allowing businesses to ban entry and service to unvaccinated patrons.
The NSW government will likely become the first state government to implement a working vaccination verification and check-in app when visiting venues.
Two weeks ago, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said her government was working on an “all-in-one” proof of vaccination and check-in service.
Further details emerged on Thursday when Digital Minister Victor Dominello told 2GB Radio that NSW was ready to start a pilot of the technology.
The trial will last two weeks before the technology is rolled out across the state, Mr Dominello said.
Premier Berejiklian on Thursday promised to reopen NSW business for vaccinated residents on the Monday after the state hits its 70 per cent double-dose target.
But other states and territories are resistant to the idea.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said on Thursday it would be difficult to update the territory’s apps to include vaccination status.
He also said they were unnecessary and questionable on human rights grounds.
“We don’t need the QR code and vaccine passports to drive up vaccination rates,” Mr Barr said.
“It’s not an issue in the ACT. I understand it might be in other jurisdictions and they might pursue it.”
Although NSW, Victoria and South Australia’s QR-scanning app uses existing state government apps already linked to other government services, the ACT uses an app developed solely to scan QR codes.
Tasmania, Qld, and the NT
Tasmania, Queensland and the Northern Territory use the same check in-app for contact tracing as the ACT.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said “detailed discussions” were being had about combining QR code check-in apps and proof of vaccination.
She further talks about privacy were needed.
On Monday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed a pilot program of domestic vaccine passports would be tested in regional Victoria as it comes out of lockdown.
Mr Andrews said the state, which is in the middle of its worst COVID-19 outbreak since last year, will test the program on the regional hospitality industry “quite soon” to ensure the technology is ready for a state-wide rollout.
“Hopefully we can get regional Victoria out of the lockdown next week,” he said.
“That’s great news for regional Victoria, but it would also be a pretty logical place for us to do some of this piloting work.”
Mr Andrews said national cabinet had agreed the domestic passport program would be ready by the end of September.
Premier Andrews confirmed last month that states had been commissioned by the national cabinet to develop vaccine certificates.