China’s International Travel Health Certificate

May 2021

With the continuing increase of the global population that have received the COVID vaccine, the safe cross-border flow of travellers needs to be considered by many countries. In order to adapt to the changing situation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China officially launched China’s ‘International Travel Health Certificate’ (ITHC) in the middle of March 2021.

ITHC is a kind of comprehensive certificate. It is used to display the core health information, such as vaccination status and the results of any related tests, of the holder. The content of the certificate operates through the electronic information platform of a smartphone and contains an encrypted QR code in order to verify and read the relevant information by the appropriate authorities of all countries. A paper version of the files can also be printed in the event that the holder doesn’t own a smartphone or have internet connection.

The decision to use an electronic platform for the ITHC was based on two factors.  

Firstly, at present, smartphones are very popular in China. People are familiar with and accustomed to digital transactions, such as digital currencies and electronic certificates.

Secondly, in the previous control and prevention of COVID, China obtained excellent results due to the government establishing a huge certification system of citizenship and health information where the information among all areas’ medical institutions, vaccine institutes, vaccination centers, hospitals and public security departments were linked for timely and efficient transfer of information. All the information regarding citizen vaccination and test results can be quickly uploaded to the system for a variety of uses, including ITHC.

The front-end of ITHC relies on the WeChat platform – an instant messaging software which is very popular in China. Through this software, every citizen can rapidly visit the ITHC platform. After the person is authenticated by their ID card, passport and face, the system accesses the relevant medical information, and generates the health QR code. 

For the traveller, the QR code can be scanned to achieve an exchange of data between country authorities but at the moment the databases of all countries aren’t linked. The QR code information is encrypted to fully secure the personal data of the holder. 

The statistical data published by the Ministry of Public Health of the People’s Republic of China shows that up to the middle of May 2021, 420 million people in China have been inoculated with a COVID vaccine. For a country with vast territory and an enormous population, issuance of digital documents is undoubtedly the most effective method to gather and exchange information quickly and accurately. 

But for a global exchange of health status information to be effective the issue of information authentication needs to be solved urgently.

Reports from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs show that the government of China has provided every country with the specifications, technical solutions and QR code through diplomatic channels to recognise and verify the electronic public key needed to facilitate a global standard for interoperability of health status certificates. It is predicted that the electronic public key will receive mutual recognition and interconnection amongst more than 60 countries by the end of August 2021.

Also in this issue:

  • A Guide to Assuring the Integrity of Secure Documents
  • Printing is Back
  • Fault Lines Appearing in Harmonising Health Status Passports
  • Decentralised Security Verification
  • News in Brief
  • Faces as a Physical/Digital Link
  • German Government Lauches SSI Pilot Scheme
  • Civil Registry as an Enabler to Digital Transformation 
  • Cradle to Grave, Digitally Down Under

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