covid safe travel podcast episode 1

Covid Safe Travel Podcast Series 1

Episode 1: What will travel look like in future?

Michelle Cox, author and podcast host interviews goPassport directors Dr John Shephard and Klaus Felsche to find out why we need goPassport as part of the solution to making travel Covid safe.

Covid Safe Travel Podcast S1, Episode 1

Summarised transcript:

Michelle begins by summarising the current situation in which the health, social and economic impacts are being felt in every country. She then introduces Dr Shephard and Klause Felsche.

Photo of interviewer, Michelle Cox
Michelle Cox
Author & Podcast Host: The Wabi Sabi Series

With over 25 years of leadership, Michelle’s career boasts a wealth of in-depth experience in a variety of National and Global Executive roles across a range of industry sectors. Passionate about living an unconventional life and helping others to live a life that’s right for them, Michelle recently wrote a book series and launched a podcast show in the same name – The Wabi Sabi Series.

photo of Dr John Shephard
Dr John Shephard
Chief Medical Officer, goPassport

30-year medical expertise in communicable diseases and international public health. Has held senior executive roles in public and private sector organisations and advised numerous Commonwealth departments. Was responsible for clinical operations in Australia’s Ebola response in West Africa and led the first nationwide GP telehealth helpline.

Klaus Felsche
Director, goPassport

Founded the first advanced analytics unit in Immigration and Border Protection. Developed and deployed the analytics-driven Border Risk Identification System including multiple components of the Next Generation Border Security System, the analytics-based Risk Scoring Service for major visa platforms and a risk micro-service for the Electronic Travel Authority.

Michelle then begins by asking Dr Shephard ‘Why is Covid-19 such a threat compared to other viral infections?’

Dr Shephard explains that although we don’t yet know everything about the virus, Covid-19 is like a stealth bomber. A virus’ reason for being is to reproduce itself and to do this it jumps from one host to the next. This virus has developed itself so it is really good at that. If someone’s got this, they may not know it. 40% of patients don’t even know they’ve got the virus, but they are out, in the community spreading it around, looking for that next victim. It stays on surfaces for many hours, in fact days and can remain in the air for hours or even longer we think, perhaps.

And once it gets into a person’s body it can do a lot of damage. It causes lung infections and a whole range of other conditions. The case fatality rate for this virus is about 1%, that is, 1% of people with this virus die. That doesn’t sound a lot but if you compare it to the common flu, the fatality rate is <0.1%. Every winter our health services are overwhelmed with flu and we really struggle to manage flu. Imagine something that is ten times as deadly as flu was to overwhelm our hospitals. That’s why early on in this pandemic we really did a lot of work to upskill our staff and upscale our capacity in our ICUs.

Michelle: ‘So, I believe this is your 4th pandemic? What is different about this one?’

What’s different is that against that stealth aircraft, we now have digital technology to help fight the virus. We can be more precise. For 700 years we have been doing the same thing in fighting pandemics, and that is quarantine. It’s a very blunt tool that we apply equally to everybody and it has massive impacts. We’re seeing that in our society, in our industry and in our economy. We think we can do this in a more refined, targetted way that reduces some of those impacts.

Michelle asks Dr Shephard ‘How safe will it be to travel in the future?’

Dr Shephard describes how we can allow travel with appropriate measures that include pre-travel screening and testing to reduce the risks. He says it needs to be a very controlled and gradual, ‘test as we go’ approach.

Michelle then asks Klaus Felsche ‘How will goPassport make it safe to travel in future?’

Klaus describes how goPassport aims to ensure almost every traveller travelling towords Australia (in this case) travels without a Covid-19 infection. goPassport does this by continually ingesting and analysing data 24×7 from various sources around the world. It identifies areas and levels of risk in locations, transport systems, airports and previously identified hotspots. The platform guides the traveller away from areas of risk.

goPassport issues each traveller with a Health Status Flag as part of their identity within the platform. The Health Status Flag changes according to what risk factors the traveller is exposed to. Klaus gives an example of a traveller transiting through a high-risk airport which could turn their Flag amber or red depending on how long they were there. The platform uses the Flag to manage traveller risk. It alerts authorities as soon as it turns red, indicating their risk of exposure and that something needs to be done with that traveller.

Klaus says goPassport guides the traveller around the risk and helps them know what they are supposed to do to prepare for a journey. Do they need vaccinations, testing, where can they get tested, do they have to quarantine etc. goPassport tells the traveller what to do and ensures they have done those things prior to letting them board a plane. Border and Health authorities at immigration have real-time visibility of the traveller through testing and when they pass through immigration at departure and arrival. This allows us to stop infected travellers before they get on the plane.

Michelle digs deeper, wanting to understand how a traveller accesses and uses goPassport.

Klaus responds by describing how travel agents and education agents advise the traveller to enroll by downloading the app to their phone. This occurs at the time of booking airfares. The travel agent’s system provides the traveller’s itinerary details to goPassport which is then assessed for risk using the data that we’re constantly analysing. If the itinerary contains hotspots, the travel agent and traveller are both advised that they should amend their itinerary to avoid the risk. goPassport then sends the traveller all the information on what the destination government requires you to do before you travel, for example, testing and when and where to get tested, and quarantine for 14 days before travel.

The authorised clinic uploads the result to goPassport and the traveller’s Health Status Flag turns green if negative for Covid-19. After testing, goPassport monitors where the traveller goes and guides them away from places that would change their Health Status Flag. goPassport informs border authorities of the traveller’s Health Status Flag and boarding the plane occurs as normal.

Upon arrival in Australia, for example, goPassport will guide the traveller through any post-arrival requirements such as quarantine and further testing. Whilst in Australia, goPassport continues to monitor the traveller and guides them away from hotspots and risks from natural disasters such as bushfires, floods, and tsunamis! It’s a complete package. goPassport will also keep in touch with the traveller for 2 weeks after they leave to advise them if they have inadvertently been exposed to an infectious person during their journey.

Editor: See How it works for a step by step traveller timeline.

Next, Michelle asks Dr Shephard why travellers would need to do testing before they actually board the plane?

Dr Shephard explains that with Covid-19 there is a 4-6 day window early on in the disease in which tests are quite likely to be negative, even though someone is infected with the virus. So a traveller could be on a plane, in-transit or on arrival and infecting other people around them when they don’t have any symptoms. So we do a couple of tests during that window to make sure the traveller is safe to travel. An advantage of this mechanism is that we can reduce the quarantine time to 10 days or less, reducing the cost and inconvenience involved.

Speaking of costs, Michelle asks Klaus ‘Who pays for goPassport and how does that work?’

Klaus advises that this depends on the type of travel you’re doing. If you’re on business travel, your company will pay, whereas if you’re travelling privately or for study, you will pay. There are infrustructure and messaging costs in providing the App to the traveller. The cost is in the order of less than a packet of cigarettes in Australia (around ~AU$50).

Dr Shephard adds that it’s really about the cost that is avoided by using goPassport: potentially reduced hotel quarantine; the cost of closed borders to economies and industries; the cost of increasing mental health issues due to the pandemic; and the cost of avoidance of normal health checks – people’s diseases will be more advanced when they are eventually diagnosed and there’s a cost with that. We need to take a global, holistic approach to what those costs are.

From a long term perspective, Michelle asks ‘How relevant will goPassport be once we have a vaccination?’

Dr Shephard says ‘Sure, a vaccine is not a magic bullet. No vaccine is a hundred percent. Some people, even though they take a vaccine, they still don’t mount a response and they do not become immune to the virus. It is going to take some time before we can get the vaccine out there to everyone in the world so that we can be safe. A vaccine also wanes, it needs boosting – for example we need new influenza vaccines every year. With Covid-19, we still don’t know how long a vaccine would last, but it might be 3 months, some people say 6 months. Where are you in that cycle and have you had your booster?

The last point Dr Shephard makes on vaccines is that the virus will mutate. Initial vaccines might not work 6 months down the track against the strain that is going around then. Absolutely, a vaccine will be part of the solution, but some of these other measures can help to mitigate that risk. There is no single answer. The layered approach that we’re proposing here with goPassport makes it very unlikely that an infected person would get through all the measures in place.