New standard established in Singapore for verification of COVID-19 test results across borders

With the use of blockchain technology, Singapore has successfully enabled global interoperability for health documents.
By Roy Chiang
09:25 PM

HealthCerts, an amalgamation of cryptographic hashes, blockchain technology, privacy protection and proof identity, is a set of open-source digital standards which is utilised for the issuing of digital COVID-19 test result certificates. Developed jointly by the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech) and the Ministry of Health (MOH), this new standard will help facilitate and hasten the clearing of travellers at immigration checkpoints both locally and internationally.

From March 10 onwards, travellers who go through a pre-departure COVID-19 test at selected authorised clinics in Singapore will receive their results digitally in the form of a certificate that is automatically loaded into HealthCerts. This can be manifested in the form of an attachment or URL link to the digital certificate. Subsequently, these travellers will have to upload their digital certificate to a separate website called Notarise. This website enables locally-issued certificates to be formally endorsed by the MOH so that they can be recognised at Singapore’s Changi Airport as well as foreign airports. 

Upon successful completion of this process, travellers will receive another digital pre-departure test certificate containing a QR code via email and/or the SingPass mobile application. Every local in Singapore has a SingPass which stands for Singapore Personal Access and is the digital identity of every Singaporean, allowing each Singaporean to gain secure access to a plethora of government and private sector services both online and in person. Upon reaching the immigration checkpoint at airports, travellers can then present the notarized certificate displaying the QR code either in a hard copy format or as a digital copy for verification purposes. By utilising the platform Verify, airline crew and immigration authorities will be able to check on the authenticity of the digital certificate simply by scanning the QR code. The in-built system within the platform can then determine if the certificate was tampered with or notarised by the MOH.

In the wake of COVID-19, countries all around the globe have tightened healthcare measures at their borders, requiring passengers to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test or in some cases, a COVID-19 vaccination record took prior to the flight before being allowed to board the plane. However, in certain countries in Europe, such as Brazil, France and the UK, there has been a sharp rise in the number of fake COVID-19 certificates available on the black market. This undermines the efforts of governments to put a tight rein on healthcare checks in an effort to mitigate the spread of the disease.

As such, it is inevitable that digital systems such as HealthCerts would become increasingly popular over time as globally, governments would seek out ways to eradicate such issues and eventually be able to safely open up air travel once more.

GovTech mentioned that it has  “open-sourced the HealthCerts schema, and the code for the issuance, verification, certificate storage and display modules, which facilitates wider adoption by private sector companies or other governments”, allowing for other countries to adopt similar systems. 

“Only this hash is needed to check the authenticity and validity of the digital certificate” Smart Nation and Digital Government Group added, emphasizing that the individual’s data will remain secure as only a hash which will serve as a digital fingerprint is published to the blockchain once it is issued.

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