Israel’s Pangea offers digital health ‘passport’ to ease travel amid pandemic

Company says it has developed a biometric smart card that would hold crucial medical information about users entering a country, confirming their virus status

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Pangea's biometric smart card would hold COVID-19 information about users, becoming sort of an 'immunity' passport for foreign travel (Courtesy)
Pangea's biometric smart card would hold COVID-19 information about users, becoming sort of an 'immunity' passport for foreign travel (Courtesy)

Israeli firm Pangea, a maker of smart digital ID cards and border control software, is hoping to use its knowhow to help airports reopen during the coronavirus pandemic to jumpstart travel and tourism.

The Herzliya-based company says a “biometric smart card” it has developed can now be used by governments to verify that the holders are virus free or have immunity, thus enabling them to reopen their borders to tourists while ensuring  the virus doesn’t spread.

The airline and travel industries are scouting for solutions to help them cope with the pandemic, which has infected over 8 million people worldwide and causing the death of more than 439,000, while grounding planes and bringing travel to a screeching halt.

Nations are now tentatively re-opening their borders, including Germany, France and Italy. Greece welcomed visitors Monday with passengers on flights from other European countries not having to undergo compulsory coronavirus tests, and plans to open up to Israeli visitors August 1, the same date that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is planning to open up to Greek and Cypriot visitors.

Mask-clad travelers wait with luggage at Cyprus’ Larnaca International Airport on June 9, 2020 (Iakovos HATZISTAVROU / AFP)

To pave the way for the reopening of borders, governments, including Israel’s, are considering the preparation of protocols for a proposed COVID-19 “passport” that will define the medical tests and processes required to be eligible for the document, the company said.

This is likely to include a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test with the use of swabs for detecting the presence of the virus to be conducted at a predetermined period of time prior to the flight and/or a serologic test for detecting antibodies to the virus. The protocol will also likely calculate the level of risk associated with the city and region where the card applicant resides, in correlation to the spread of the virus, and note various isolation requirements in the country to which the card bearer is flying or in his home country on return from abroad.

Uzy Rozenthal, Pangea EVP and general manager of the government division (David Garb)

Pangea’s smart card solution would provide such an “immunity passport,” allowing holders to enter airport terminals and airplanes. The card comprises a photo of the holder, a digital signature, a chip, and a hologram. It can be securely linked to the country’s medical data base, the company said, and includes up-to-date encrypted data on the holder’s COVID-19 profile.

The card-issuing process would need to be overseen by the country’s health ministry in cooperation with local health providers and hospitals. It would require the close cooperation of tourism ministries, airports, airlines, and insurance companies, as well as close coordination of the countries whose citizens will be traveling between them, Pangea said in a statement.

Pangea’s search engine will review each case and determine whether the card holder meets the necessary requirements for entry, according to protocols and criteria set out by each of the nations.

The engine is dynamic and capable of making real time updates as countries revise their requirements to deal with a changing health environment, said Uzy Rozenthal, Pangea EVP and general manager of the government division.

Because the card has a chip, it also won’t necessarily need to be connected to a country’s database, he said, which would require many more regulatory approvals. All the relevant medical information could be loaded onto the chip, which could be updated in real time with changes relating to the patient or the protocols.

The biometric passport could be a physical card or a phone app or barcode, he said.

Delta planes on the tarmac at LaGuardia Airport in New York City, November 22, 2017. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images via JTA)

Pangea, which has been selling its software and hardware products to African countries including Zimbabwe, Botswana and Lesotho for border controls and digital visa applications, is in talks with regulators in Israel, including the health and tourism ministries and the Israel Airports Authority, about the biometric smart card, Rozenthal said. The firm is also in talks with regulators in South Africa and with European ambassadors about adopting the card in their countries, he added.

“The need to open up the economy is critical and existential, but it requires that each and every country adopt advanced solutions for reducing the danger of mass infection,” Rozenthal said.

A 14-day isolation requirement after a flight is not practical, he said, for both tourists and businesspeople.

“The immunity ‘passport’ we developed would enable the creation of sterile areas where there is no danger of infection and where thousands of people would feel safe to conduct any activity without fear,” Rozenthal said. “Our card and platform are one of the keys to the opening up of the skies and mass movement of millions of tourists and businesspeople from country to country.”

Pangea is also hoping to expand the capabilities of the COVID-19 smart card and turn it into a complete medical “passport” that will include all the holder’s relevant medical information, for use by hospitals and medical providers.

The card would in effect become a digital medical file that will display all medical information to the entire network of health providers including ambulances, medical emergency services, emergency rooms, hospital wards and other relevant organizations. To protect the privacy of the patient, each medical provider would be given access only to data that is relevant to them, explained Rozenthal.

At present, in many countries, hospitals and health providers are not always connected and hospitalization occurs without most of the patient’s medical history, he said.

When traveling, this same card can also serve as a digital vaccination card.

Pangea was founded in 1995 and develops digital smart cards for identification and and health purposes, and secure digital solutions for governments and businesses globally.

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