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Singapore clinics to issue digital COVID-19 test results

With the pandemic still at hand, countries from all over are looking for further improvements on COVID-19 testing procedures. In Singapore, clinics authorised to conduct pre-departure COVID-19 tests (PDTs) for outbound travellers will now have to issue digital test result certificates, instead of the current physical certificates.

The digital test results will look to improve Singapore Airlines’ (SIA) existing online portal testing programme where passengers can choose from a list of recognised testing facilities and book appointments for pre-departure Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and serology tests. This is part of a digital health verification process based on the International Air Transport Association (Iata) Travel Pass framework.

The digitalisation initiative was supposed to start recently, but it had been delayed to allow clinics and labs additional time to set up the capability to digitalise the PDT certificates.

The Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) said that the new digital certification system is based on HealthCerts, an open-source framework for issuing digital COVID-19 test result certificates. The use of HealthCerts for digital PDT certificates enables an inter-operable, verifiable, and tamper-proof solution that will smoothen and expedite check-in processing and customs clearance at foreign and local immigration checkpoints.

Travellers will need to notarise the digital COVID-19 test certificate – which means having the document certified by the Ministry of Health – so it can be recognised at the airport and overseas. The certificate will need to be uploaded on the Government’s Notarise website, after which a notarised digital PDT certificate containing a QR code will be sent to travellers.

Airline and immigration officials can scan the QR code to check the authenticity of the PDT certificate using a tool called Verify, developed by a technology agency, or by a verification tool currently being piloted by the SIA. The platform will be able to check whether the digital certificate was tampered with and whether the certificate has been notarised by the Health Ministry.

Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative in the Prime Minister’s Office Vivian Balakrishnan said in Parliament during the debate on the PMO’s budget that the notarised pre-departure test results will be available on the SingPass Mobile app. The notarised test results will also be sent via e-mail.

Meanwhile, the Government will also look to expand this measure on vaccine certificates.

However, SNDGO noted that the World Health Organisation’s current recommendation is that COVID-19 vaccinations should not be imposed as a condition of entry. They also added that the Government is closely monitoring international developments on the use of digital vaccination certifications for travel and is in discussions with the International Civil Aviation Organisation and various countries on the mutual recognition of such certifications.

There are currently nine HealthCerts-compliant technology providers, which clinics can buy from to start issuing digital certificates. SNDGO clarified that the individual’s data remains private with the digital test certificate.

This is all in line with the country’s efforts in providing a robust system to verify the authenticity of COVID-19 tests and vaccinations, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. A standardised system is essential to reopen borders and resume international travel, he said in a special address to the World Economic Forum (WEF) Davos Agenda 2021. He further said that countries need to strengthen international cooperation, which is essential in tackling the global pandemic. If countries are to tackle COVID-19 coherently, international cooperation and multilateral efforts, as well as an international order underpinned by stable great power relations, are critical.

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