Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Health & Family Welfare addressed the event on Restoring Cross Border Mobility by World Economic Forum’s Common Trust Networktoday through Video Conference.The purpose of the event was to discuss the policies, practices and partnerships needed to reopen borders and enable essential travel, tourism and commerce in a safe and sustainable way.Underlining how COVID-19 has impacted the cross border movement, the Union Minister stated, “The COVID-19 pandemic has gravely wounded the world economy with serious consequences impacting all communities and individuals. It has also hit supply chains and therefore impacted trade and development in a major way.Moving rapidly across borders, along the principal arteries of the global economy, the spread of the virus has benefited from the underlying interconnectedness of globalization, catapulting a global health crisis into a global economic shock that has hit the most vulnerable the hardest.”Speaking on the importance of rapid risk assessment and risk dissemination, Dr. Harsh Vardhan said, “In the context of public health, clear, transparent and timely sharing of crucial information on public health emergencies by undertaking rapid risk assessment and disseminating the risk is the key to striking a balance between public health and trade & travel. Conducting such risk assessments would entail rapid analysis of causative agents, their origin & transmission dynamics, geographic spread, pathogenicity of disease, population and age group affected, associated fatality, potential impact on health, livelihood and economy.”He continued in this regard, “It is imperative to have Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to streamline operations of international contact tracing.
In the context of COVID-19 detection of mutant variants in some of the countries (which has lead to resurgence in cases) has emerged as another impediment in dialling down the existing travel and trade restrictions that countries have put up in a bid to restrict the spread of COVID-19.”Dr. Harsh Vardhan while addressing a question on the ways and means to address the issue of international travel, said, “Though the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and a few countries in Europe are pondering on the idea of a COVID-19 vaccination based ‘immunity passports’/ travel passes in a bid to ease travel restrictions; I think it is a bit too early to talk about the same.In view of the above, we are of the view that we may wait for some more time for evidence to emerge to take further decision on this matter.”Acknowledging the need to ensure harmonization of implementation frameworks at a global level, Dr. Harsh Vardhansaid, “International contact tracing or ‘immunity passport’ holds the key to ensure international acceptability ofsuch frameworks. They should be based on sound principles of equity and privacy. The World Health Organization as a UN body can play a lead role in achieving global consensus on such frameworks.”He added, “Developing such crossing border mobility experiences will require cooperation between the health sector as well as aviation, travel and tourism sector stakeholders. This will require a coordinated, harmonized approach that is as global in scale as the pandemic itself. Timing is of the essence to prevent further harm to economies and make travelers comfortable with travel.”David Sin, Co-Founder, Group President and Deputy Chairman, Fullerton Health Pte Ltd, Sabrina Chao,President Designate, BIMCO joined the sessions virtually.