With the speed of the novel coronavirus multiplying, it is evident that the pandemic is not going anywhere anytime soon. While there is some initial progress in our understanding of the virus and treatment of the disease that it causes, we’re aware that we may have to live with it for a longer period than expected. The only hope now is a vaccine that, according to experts, could take many more months to develop.
Our understanding of the situation may still be vague, but one thing that’s clear is that the post-Covid world will be starkly different from the one that we know. And we’ve already begun to see that change: workplaces have gone remote with some tech companies announcing work from home forever options; education has switched to online mode; products are being delivered to homes instead of people going out to buy them; and more people are transacting digitally than ever.
Foreseeing what a post-Covid world might look like, some forward-looking tech players have already started to build solutions for future problems. Among other things that the pandemic will be changing drastically is travel; countries are expected to impose new travel protocols that could include the proof of vaccination showing that you’re free of or immune to SARS-CoV-2. And as the industry also aims for ‘touchless’ travel, this immunization certificate is also going to be a digital one.
A digital vaccination passport for safe and easy travel
World experts predict that we might need digital health passes to travel internationally in the post-Covid world. Bill Gates also recently said that “eventually we will have some digital certificates to show who has recovered or been tested recently, or when we have a vaccine, who has received it.” German researchers are also working on digital ‘immunity passports’ as a way of getting people who have had coronavirus back into the workforce more quickly.
TrustNet Pakistan, the country’s first and only digital trust foundation, also believes that global travel restrictions for countries like Pakistan could be severe given the de facto herd-immunity approach that the country is pursuing. So, it’s proactively working to build an indigenous open-source digital vaccination verification solution in collaboration with global tech players on the CovidCreds platform, where experts from different parts of the world are teaming up to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
“We’re picturing a post-Covid world where a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine has arrived and is available for the masses around the world,” shares Omer Shafiq, Founder & Executive Director of TrustNet Pakistan.
“In a bid to regain economic strength, countries are returning to normalcy, but with caution and new protocols. Travel, for one, has changed and you need a digital, verifiable proof of vaccination for the novel coronavirus if you want to travel abroad from Pakistan. The TrustNet Covid-19 open-source initiative is working on that very solution called Vaccify,” he adds.
“It’s going to be a blockchain-based solution that lets individuals prove that they have received a vaccination,” informs Omer, who is an overseas Pakistani blockchain consultant at a Nordic software and service company. But is it just travel that the new solution will help individuals with?
“No”, says Omer. “By digitally proving that you are vaccinated, individuals will be able to begin to travel and participate in everyday life again. Organizations can start functioning to a certain level, and logistics and transportation can be restored to some extent,” says Omer while detailing some use cases.
How the digital heath pass will work
On the used-end, solution seems to be quite intuitive. If you want to prove, either face-to-face or remotely, that you been vaccinated against Covid-19, you go to an accredited hospital and get vaccinated for Covid-19. The hospital issues a digital certificate that you automatically receive on your smartphone. As the hospital is enabled with TrustNet’s blockchain-based self-sovereign identity system, you now have your digital vaccine certificate in your mobile wallet app (Vaccify) similar to if you would be given a paper-based proof.
But, as opposed to any paper-based proof, Vaccify’s certificate will be decentralized, tamper-proof, and digitally provable and trusted nationally and internationally where paper-based certificates would fail. Now, you go to an airline/travel agency website to book a flight ticket. The airline/travel agency wants to make sure if you have had proper vaccination to be allowed to book a ticket. You scan a simple QR code provided by airline/travel agency website on your phone and now they have verified a digital cryptographic proof that you have been vaccinated.
“With a quick touchless scan of a QR code either online or face to face, a person can prove that he or she is virus-free or has been vaccinated,” shares Omer. “This special digital certificate can maintain the privacy and confidentiality of people by having no personal information and still providing strong cryptographic proof that the credential belongs to that person.”
Such a digital credential, adds Omer, would be massively harder to fake or spoof than any paper or plastic credential. And it can be issued – or revoked – in seconds if needed. Moreover, its trust interoperability would be international, meaning a digital credential issued in Pakistan can be verified and trusted anywhere in the world, Omer highlights.
When the solution could be available for public
The solution, according to Omer, is in mid-development stages and the alpha can be expected by August-end. “As for the pilot release, it depends on the response we get from the community, the government, or NGOs. The involvement of Digital Pakistan could also help us a great deal in reaching for the pilot phase faster and making the solution a reality for Pakistan,” he adds.
“We’re a not-for-profit initiative with 22 to 25 community collaborators from all major cities of Pakistan including some overseas Pakistanis from the UAE, and two companies (Xord.one & Pakistan Blockchain Institute) on board helping us with the development of the solution. Our community contributors work with a passion to serve humanity and using their skills for a greater cause than just earning money. We share an urge to do something about the pandemic and be a part of something bigger than ourselves,” says Omer.
Omer adds that the work can be expedited and the vision materialized if more community contributors come forward with their unique digital skills. Plus, the government’s interest and involvement in the project can be crucial not just for tackling the Covid-19 crisis, but also in fighting other diseases as well as digitizing public health.