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COVID vaccines

China rolls out vaccine passport, aiming to revive foreign travel

Beijing seeks mutual recognition of national COVID-19 certificates

A nurse administers the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine to an airport worker in eastern China on Jan. 29. The country aims to inoculate 40% of its population by June.   © AP

SHANGHAI -- China has debuted a "coronavirus vaccine passport" as Beijing campaigns for mutual recognition of health certificates, hoping to support a return of wider international travel as inoculations spread.

The International Travel Health Certificate became downloadable through the WeChat mobile app Monday, similar to an existing health code app that tracks travel records. It contains COVID-19 vaccination information as well as results of nucleic acid diagnostic tests and serum antibody tests.

A printed form of the certificate also will be recognized, China's Foreign Ministry said on its official WeChat account.

"We will take care to fully protect personal privacy and contribute to the mutual recognition of nucleic acid test results and vaccination records, thus facilitating safe and orderly flow of personnel," Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters on Sunday.

China's current coronavirus-related border restrictions require travelers to present several tests showing a negative result within 48 hours of their departure, and they must quarantine upon arrival.

A screenshot of China's vaccine passport. (Photo credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs' official WeChat account)

The travel curbs have forced foreign businesses to slow the pace of new investments, a study by the American Chamber of Commerce in South China revealed last month.

The vaccine passport was deliberated at China's ongoing National People's Congress, with delegates advocating for its adoption -- albeit with caution.

"A vaccine passport can aid the recovery to normal life, promote international tourism and trade," said Zhang Zhengfu, a delegate to the political advisory conference held alongside the congress. But Zhang, who is also vice president of China's bar association, noted the risk of opening borders widely as inoculations remain at an early stage.

The World Health Organization advised last month against using proof of inoculation as a condition for international travel, saying "there are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination."

Other countries look to enact a vaccine passport. The European Commission announced draft legislation last week to create a Digital Green Pass, which would record COVID-19 test records of citizens in European Union nations.

After a slow start, China now aims to vaccinate 560 million residents -- 40% of its population -- by June, leading Chinese medical expert Zhong Nanshan said last week. The country had administered 52.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines as of February.

China looks to match the speed of inoculations in some other countries as Beijing prepares to host a series of national and global events. The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, or COP-15, is slated for May, followed by the centennial of the Chinese Communist Party in July and the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

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