Davos summit: Unrestricted cross-border mobility will need consultation among all stakeholders, says Vardhan

NEW DELHI/DAVOS: With various vaccines raising hope for the world to emerge out of the COVID-19 pandemic, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Thursday said unrestricted cross-border mobility may still take some time and would need consultations among all stakeholders, including the governments as well as health and aviation sectors.

Speaking at a session on ‘Restoring Cross-Border Mobility’ at the World Economic Forum’s online Davos Agenda Summit, Vardhan said the COVID-19 pandemic has gravely wounded the world economy with serious consequences, impacting individuals and communities across the world.

“It has also hit supply chains and it has therefore impacted the development in a major way.

Moving rapidly across borders, along the principal arteries of the global economy, the spread of the virus has also benefitted from the underlying interconnectedness of globalisation,” the minister for health and family welfare, science and technology and earth sciences said.

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In the context of public health, clear transparent and timely sharing of crucial information on public health emergencies by undertaking rapid risk assessment is the key to striking a balance between public health and trade and also travel, he said.

Additionally, it is imperative to have standard operating procedures to streamline operations of international contact tracing, the minister said.

“Emergence of mutant variants in some countries, which has led to a 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,” he said.

“So although we have to ultimately develop the mechanisms from where we were one year back, I think a lot of things have improved further, but certainly we have to act with a lot of patience also and with a lot of meticulous procedure and vision, and take care of the whole issue in a very dedicated, sincere, committed and scientific manner,” he said.

On how to solve the challenges of cross-border mobility, Vardhan said the International Air Transport Association, and a few countries in Europe are already pondering on the idea of a COVID-19 vaccination immunity passport or a travel pass, in a bid to ease travel restrictions.

“But, I personally feel, and I would say that all the medical professionals and scientists will also have the same feeling, that it is a bit too early to talk about the same.

“Though clinical trials have already suggested that the vaccines are effective at preventing one from getting seriously ill, there are still critical unknowns, such as we really don’t know…about the efficacy of the vaccination in reducing transmission, also the duration of immunity after vaccination, and also the efficacy on the vaccine against the emerging variants of SARS-CoV2 virus,” he said.

Vardhan said we may have to wait for some more time for evidence to emerge to take further decisions on this matter.

“I think there is a further question on the standardisation of these implementation frameworks, whether for sharing of crucial information on public health issues…I must say that it is the international contact tracing or immunity passport that shall ultimately hold the key to ensure their international acceptability,” he said.

The minister said such frameworks should be used on sound principles of equity and privacy, and WHO, as a UN body, can play a lead role in achieving a global consensus on such frameworks.

Besides, developing such cross-border mobility experiences will require co-operation between the health sector as well as aviation, travel and tourism sector and stakeholders, he added.