The shadowy world of camouflage passports

(CNN) — “He has pulled a hand-grenade pin and he is ready to blow up the aircraft if he has to. We must, I repeat, we must land at Beirut.”

The hijacking of TWA Flight 847 on June 14, 1985 sent the world reeling.

It was a drawn-out horror show lasting a fraught 17 days, which saw Americans singled out for beatings by their Hezbollah kidnappers, and the cold-blooded murder of United States Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem.

Like millions of others, Donna Walker, a former travel agent from Houston, Texas, watched as the scenes played out on rolling news coverage. As she did, Walker realized it was finally time to act on an idea she’d had a few years back.

“It’s not counterfeit; it’s camouflage”

The 1980s was a troubling era for American travelers. Increasingly, civilians found themselves the target of terrorism. The New York Times somberly summed up 1985 as “a year of hijackings, kidnappings, car bombings and murder”. But things had been getting bad before then.
Six years previous to TWA Flight 847, the American Embassy in Tehran had succumbed to a 444-day detainment of over 50 Americans by militarized students. It was during this episode that Walker first hit on the concept of a ‘camouflage passport’.

A counterfeit passport falsely claims the bearer is from a certain country, in order to get them through borders illegally.

The camouflage passport, however, used the name of a former country, since changed for political reasons. It wasn’t for crossing borders, either.

Walker surmised that if someone found themselves in a life-threatening situation, they could present their aggressors with a genuine-looking document claiming they were from, say, Rhodesia, rather than the US.

The aggressors would be persuaded this captive was of little political heft, and maybe afford them kinder treatment.

The hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in 1985 is said to have inspired a former travel agent to manufacture legal, 'camouflage' passports.

The hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in 1985 is said to have inspired a former travel agent to manufacture legal, ‘camouflage’ passports.

Alain Nogues/Sygma/Getty Images

In October 1987 Walker explained to Time magazine how she’d confirmed she could manufacture bogus passports from “Ceylon,” because Sri Lanka — the country Ceylon became in 1972 — no longer had claim to that name. The same rule applied to any erstwhile nation, from the British West Indies to Zaire.

Walker began selling the passports through her company, International Documents Services, for $135 a pop (offering a 30% discount for armed forces members). The documents themselves, said Time, looked impressively authentic: “Its burgundy, textured-vinyl cover is stamped with gold lettering that reads, PASSPORT, REPUBLIC OF CEYLON.”

“It’s not counterfeit; it’s camouflage,” Walker insisted. And apparently the State Department had no beef with US citizens carrying the passports, either.

180 fictional passports

Walker’s phony passport concept wasn’t exactly original. Tom Topol, who runs the Passport Collector website, explains that documents that bend and break the rules have saved many lives over the years.
Schutz-Passes” are a good example; these were Swedish passports issued to Hungarians by the diplomat Raoul Wallenberg at a time when 10,000 Hungarian Jews were being sent to the gas chambers every day. Though more or less invalid as passports, the documents were widely accepted by Nazi officials, sparing the deportation of thousands of Hungarians to their potential deaths.

Similar to the principle of camouflage passports, the “Schutz-Pass” used the guise of another nationality to help the bearer swerve immediate danger. Which begs the question: did any of Walker’s camouflage passports ever do what they were supposed to — save someone’s life?

We know the concept took off, at least to some extent.

For one thing, Walker said she’d already sold around 350 camouflage passports in 1987 — many to US government officials. Look at the European Commission’s list of 180 “fictional” passports and you’ll find a host of the camouflage variety, featuring Dutch Guiana, Eastern Samoa, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Gilbert Islands, and many more.
The UK’s HM Passport Office published a similar (now archived) list, confirming camouflage passports were at the least “occasionally encountered.”
Jeffrey A. Schoenblum’s 2008 book “Multistate and Multinational Estate Planning” suggests that following the fall of the Berlin Wall, some German businesspeople — wary of the reception they’d receive in other countries — carried camouflage passports to “avoid unpleasantness… in certain parts of Europe with long memories.”
There’s also a story claiming a group of European oil executives used camouflage passports during the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, to reach the safety of Jordan.

Finding anything watertight, though, isn’t easy. A US State Department official tells CNN Travel: “We do not track any statistics on the attempted usage of camouflage and fantasy passports.” HM Passport Office is similarly guarded: “We don’t issue camouflage passports so would not be able to provide comment.”

One reason evidence is so thin on the ground, suggests Topol, is that where camouflage passports have worked, it hasn’t been reported for the safety and security of the individual in question.

Camouflage passports today

So what became of the camouflage passport — are they still in circulation now?

As late as 2007, Barney Brantingham of the Santa Barbara Independent was claiming camouflage passports kits — complete with a counterfeit driver’s license or other ID — could be sourced on the internet for $400 to $1,000. Fast forward 14 years, and finding them isn’t so straightforward.

There’s no International Documents Services anymore, no bona fide-looking website openly selling camouflage passports.

That’s despite them being ostensibly legitimate. A representative of Personal Safety London — experts in global travel safety — tells CNN that it remains technically legal to possess a camouflage passport in countries including Australia, New Zealand and all European Union nations, so long as it’s solely used for self-preservation in a life or death situation.

The thing is, such documents may not be as convincing as they were 30 years ago. “With the advent of biometric documents and advances in document security measures such as watermarks and advanced holograms embedded in ID documents, it has become more difficult to portray a camouflage passport as a valid document,” says the Personal Safety London spokesperson.

The European Commission's list of 180 'fictional' passports includes Dutch Guiana, Eastern Samoa and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

The European Commission’s list of 180 ‘fictional’ passports includes Dutch Guiana, Eastern Samoa and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

leah abucayan/cnn illustration

You’ll have more luck buying one of the camouflage passport’s close cousins. Go back to that list of fictional passports from the European Commission and there’s another section titled: “Fantasy passports.”

Here, you will discover the likes of “Hare Krishna Sect”, “Dukedom of New Sealand” and “Conch Republic Passport.”

The Conch Republic — like all these fantasy passport names — never existed as a recognized country; it’s an alternative identity for the Florida Keys, resulting from a tussle with the US government in 1982.
Keys residents argued they were being “alienated as Americans” and hurled conch fritters and water balloons at a US Coastguard boat. Another show of solidarity to emerge from the chaos was the Conch Republic passport — which is still in demand today. For a mere $100, an “international-quality, thread-sewn” document is yours.

Despite fantasy passports’ often realistic appearance — gold embossed crests, headshots, personal data, space for immigration stamps –you shouldn’t expect to be waved through by border security. That’s not their intended use. But there is a twist in the tale.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the FBI reportedly approached the secretary-general of the Conch Republic, suspicious that one of the plane hijackers, Mohammad Atta, could have used a Conch Republic passport to enter the USA.

Other stories suggest times when fantasy passports might have been used to nefarious ends — the antithesis of why camouflage passports themselves were created in the first place.

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A 19th-Century Version of Covid-19 Vaccine Passports | History

Illustration of vaccine passports overlaid on map of Gibraltar
Survivors received “fever passes” that certified their immunity, allowing them increased freedom of movement at a time when a substantial portion of the population was being held under strict quarantine.
Photo illustration by Meilan Solly / Photos via Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of Lawrence Sawchuk and Lianne Tripp

In August 1804, a shopkeeper named Santo entered the gates of Gibraltar, unaware that a pernicious virus was coursing through his blood. He had taken a trip to neighboring Spain, where, it seems, his skin was pricked by a mosquito carrying yellow fever. Within a day of his return, Santo had fallen ill—the first documented victim in Gibraltar of a disease that would wreak havoc on the Mediterranean fortress town during the early years of the 19th century.

Over the course of just four months in 1804, yellow fever claimed the lives of more than 2,200 people in Gibraltar, an estimated quarter of the permanent residents and military personnel who lived within the fortress. This epidemic was followed by four others, fueling repeated bouts of fear and despair. Time and again, residents watched as their loved ones and neighbors succumbed to an illness that, in its severest forms, causes an alarming litany of symptoms: jaundice—a yellowing of the skin and eyes that gives the virus its name; black vomit; bleeding from the eyes, nose and mouth. Health officials tried to stamp out the disease but didn’t understand how yellow fever was transmitted. It was only at the turn of the 20th century that the Aedes aegypti mosquito was revealed to be a vector of yellow fever, silently transmitting the virus as it flits from person to person, sucking up its meals.

In 19th-Century Gibraltar, Survivors of a Deadly Virus Used 'Fever Passes' to Prove Their Immunity

Illustration showing the development of yellow fever in a patient in Cadiz, Spain, in 1819

Wellcome Collection via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY 4.0

But authorities were quick to recognize one important truth: People who contract yellow fever and survive are not vulnerable to subsequent infections. Today, this concept is known as immunity; in the 19th century, the term “non-liability” was used. By Gibraltar’s fifth epidemic in 1828, an innovative measure had been put in place to accommodate those with protection against yellow fever. Survivors were granted “fever passes” that certified their non-liability, allowing them increased freedom of movement at a time when a substantial portion of the population was being held under strict quarantine.

This concept resonates today, as countries wade through the Covid-19 pandemic and grapple with the challenges of easing lockdown restrictions while the virus continues to mutate, infect and spread. As part of their reopening plans, some governments and businesses have mandated “vaccine passports”—documents, either digital or paper, that prove vaccination status—to ensure that only those with a high degree of protection against Covid-19 are able to cross borders and access certain public spaces, like restaurants, movie theaters and concert venues.

Documents testifying to an individual’s good health have long been deployed during times of rampant sickness. As far back as the 15th century, travelers could carry “health passes” certifying that they came from a location free of the plague. According to a recent paper published in the journal BMJ Global Health, however, the earliest evidence of passports showing that the holder is immune to a disease comes from Gibraltar 200 years ago. 

“Having this passport gave you the freedom … to be able to do something that was almost normal, and that is to move about somewhat freely,” says study co-author Larry Sawchuk, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto Scarborough whose research focuses on the population health of Gibraltar and the Maltese Islands.

In 19th-Century Gibraltar, Survivors of a Deadly Virus Used 'Fever Passes' to Prove Their Immunity

1828 yellow fever pass for 14-year-old Anna

Courtesy of Lawrence Sawchuk and Lianne Tripp

Located at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, Gibraltar is a small strip of land dominated by a soaring promontory—the famed Rock of Gibraltar. For hundreds of years, this slip of a territory was coveted by diverse nations for its strategic location next to the Strait of Gibraltar, the only route into the Mediterranean via the Atlantic Ocean. Gibraltar was occupied by the Moors in the eighth century C.E.; captured by Spanish forces in 1462; and taken by the British in 1704, during the War of the Spanish Succession.

When yellow fever first struck in the early 1800s, “the Rock,” as Gibraltar is known colloquially, was a closely guarded garrison town under the absolute authority of a British military governor. Residents lived within the walls of an imposing fortress that had been built, modified, damaged and repaired over centuries of tumultuous history. Police surveilled the population, and the gates of the town were constantly guarded by soldiers. Permits were required to leave and enter these gates, which opened at daybreak and closed at dusk. 

“Under that sort of system, the citizen had absolutely no rights,” says study co-author Lianne Tripp, an anthropologist at the University of Northern British Columbia who studies health and disease in the Mediterranean in the 19th and 20th centuries. “They had to do whatever was needed to be done to serve the fortress.”

In spite of the restrictive nature of life on the Rock, Gibraltar was an important trade hub and a pulsing, crowded, cosmopolitan town. People from Italy, Spain, Morocco, England and other diverse locations flocked to Gibraltar, drawn in by its free port and the promise of year-round employment that couldn’t be found in the nearby south of Spain, where jobs tended to be seasonal.

In 19th-Century Gibraltar, Survivors of a Deadly Virus Used 'Fever Passes' to Prove Their Immunity

1803 map of Gibraltar

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The virus that would come to plague the fortress likely originated in the rainforests of Africa, making its way to the Western Hemisphere via ships carrying enslaved people in the 17th century. Yellow fever eventually spread to Europe, possibly hitching a ride on trade ships coming from the Americas. A 1730 epidemic in Cadiz, Spain, killed 2,200 people and was followed by outbreaks in French and British ports. Yellow fever may have been introduced to Gibraltar in 1804 by someone coming from Spain—Santo, perhaps, or another traveler who escaped the notice of medical authorities. When it breached the walls of the fortress, the virus found a perfect storm of conditions that allowed it to proliferate to devastating effect.

The colony was, for one, notoriously overcrowded. Its residents, many of them impoverished, packed into the fortress, living in “patios,” or multi-tenant buildings that shared an open common area. “You’d have a room with ten people in it, and they would sleep in that room, and they were separated by about two inches,” says Sawchuk. For Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which do not fly particularly long distances, these dense urban conditions served up an easy smorgasbord of human hosts. Late summer heat and humidity also provided ideal temperatures for the insects to thrive, and an ample supply of standing water offered plenty of breeding grounds; no springs or rivers run through Gibraltar, so residents relied on rainfall for drinking water, which they collected in buckets and jugs.

Most people in Gibraltar had no previous exposure to yellow fever and thus no immunity against it. The virus usually causes mild flu-like symptoms, but some patients who seem to recover enter a toxic second phase that kills up to 50 percent of patients. In Gibraltar, the dead piled up so quickly that coffins could be produced fast enough for only one out of every four bodies. Corpses were heaped onto carts that trundled through the town, a haunting reminder to the living that they were surrounded by death. But the carts couldn’t keep up. One journal from the period records a young woman “throwing her dead father out of the chamber window,” perhaps knowing that his body would likely not be collected anytime soon.

In 19th-Century Gibraltar, Survivors of a Deadly Virus Used 'Fever Passes' to Prove Their Immunity

1828 yellow fever pass for 17-year-old Juan

Courtesy of Lawrence Sawchuk and Lianne Tripp

The epidemic slowed its fatal march through Gibraltar once cold weather set in and yellow fever’s bloodsucking vectors died off. Local authorities who had been blindsided by the virus established a Board of Public Health and were ready to act when a smaller series of epidemics broke out in 1810, 1813 and 1814. 

One significant measure involved the creation of a quarantine encampment on the isthmus between Gibraltar and Spain, an area known as the Neutral Ground. The site was established in 1810, quickly and secretly. In the dead of night, authorities rapped on the doors of households affected by yellow fever and forcibly escorted the sick to the Neutral Ground. They stayed there, sequestered in tents and monitored by guards, until the epidemic had waned.

Later, in 1814, a cohort of civilian volunteers was enlisted to keep track of the population’s health. Every day, the volunteers went door-to-door within the fortress, making note of residents who were sick and those who remained vulnerable to the virus. These observers recorded overcrowding and uncleanliness and doused homes that were affected by yellow fever with lime and hot water. 

Some of these protocols were quite innovative. Tripp notes, for example, that the practice of conducting door-to-door surveys during public health crises is typically associated with John Snow, a physician who mapped out cholera cases in London in the mid-1850s, nearly three decades after Gibraltar’s last yellow fever epidemic. Still, authorities on the Rock were basing their management strategies on two incorrect theories of yellow fever transmission: They believed the disease spread directly from person to person or that it dispersed through foul air emanating from rotting filth. It is largely coincidental that, after the first epidemic in 1804, Gibraltar managed to avoid a second severe epidemic for nearly 25 years. Factors like ample rainfall, which was used to cool feverish bodies, may have done more to temper yellow fever deaths than quarantines or sanitization efforts, according to Sawchuk.

In 19th-Century Gibraltar, Survivors of a Deadly Virus Used 'Fever Passes' to Prove Their Immunity

Map of the Neutral Ground, where yellow fever patients—and later those susceptible to yellow fever—were quarantined

Courtesy of Lawrence Sawchuk and Lianne Tripp

Despite officials’ best efforts, yellow fever returned to the fortress in fall 1828 with a virulence that recalled the first epidemic, ultimately killing more than 1,600 people. As the crisis raged, health officials decided to tweak one of their key management protocols. Instead of quarantining the sick in the Neutral Ground, they ordered all those who had not been infected by the virus to immediately relocate to the encampment, along with the rest of their households. 

Scholars cannot definitively say why this change in policy was made, but it required a “formidable” level of contact tracing, write Sawchuk and Tripp in their paper. Authorities relied on meticulous house-to-house surveys to identify and segregate people lacking immunity from those who had survived past epidemics. The measure was likely life-saving for reasons that officials wouldn’t have understood. Unlike the densely concentrated town, the Neutral Ground wasn’t filled with barrels of standing water where mosquitoes could breed. Windy weather on the isthmus also kept the insects away.

Not all of the 4,000 people relocated to the encampment needed this protection. Some had survived previous epidemics but were carted off to the Neutral Ground because they lived in the same household as an individual who had never been sick. The Neutral Ground wasn’t a particularly pleasant place to be: “You’re living in a tent or a shed,” Sawchuk says. “There’s no escaping everybody looking at you, hearing exactly what you’re saying. For four months … that would drive me a little crazy.” Life in the encampment would have been terribly dull, he adds. Those quarantined at the site were kept from their jobs, their friends, the bustle of the town—until authorities began issuing passes that allowed yellow fever survivors to travel in and out of the encampment and even reside in the town.

Only two such fever passes are known to survive today. Housed in the Gibraltar National Museum, they are printed on small squares of yellowing paper, with blank spaces for a physician to fill out the patient’s name, age and religious affiliation. The documents belonged to a pair of teenagers, Juan and Anna; their last name is difficult to decipher, but they were likely siblings. Juan was 17 and Anna was 14 at the time of Gibraltar’s last yellow fever outbreak. A physician’s signature certified that each had “passed the present Epidemic Fever.”

In 19th-Century Gibraltar, Survivors of a Deadly Virus Used 'Fever Passes' to Prove Their Immunity

1878 illustration of soldiers returning from Cuba being fumigated to protect against yellow fever

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Experts don’t know how many fever passes were issued in 1828, but the fact that the documents were standardized and printed suggests there were “a good number of them,” says Tripp. The relief that came with obtaining one of these passes, particularly considering that residents were not afforded the luxury of quarantining in their own homes, must have been palpable. “[Fever passes] gave you the freedom to escape the monotony of living in this encampment,” Sawchuk says.

Modern vaccine passports are a comparable measure intended to ease restrictions for those with protection against Covid-19. But the case study of Gibraltar does not provide easy answers to the thorny questions raised by the vaccine passport system. After all, 19th-century Gibraltar was clearly not a free state. Even prior to its spate of epidemics, citizens’ movement was controlled through permits required to enter and leave the fortress. Fever passes may very well have seemed like business as usual to residents of the garrison town.

Today, by contrast, vaccine passports have caused considerable hand-wringing among ethicists, policy makers and citizens. Proponents argue that the documents allow individuals to safely return to gathering indoors, which comes with numerous benefits, like reuniting families and reviving the global economy. But good-faith critics have voiced concerns that the passports violate civil liberties and open the door for “chilling” invasions of privacy and surveillance.

Many of the fundamental mitigation strategies that we put in place have been around for hundreds of years.

Another fear is that vaccine passports worsen existing inequalities both within countries and on a global level. Requiring such documents for international travel “restrict[s] the freedom of people in low- and middle-income countries most because they have the least vaccine access,” says Nancy S. Jecker, an expert on bioethics and humanities at the University of Washington who authored a recent paper on vaccine passports and health disparities. She adds that domestic vaccine passports are also problematic because they have “unfair and disproportionate effects” on segments of the population that do not always have equal access to Covid vaccines, like low-income groups and racial and ethnic minorities.

Jecker does not broadly oppose the idea of a health pass; for domestic travel, she supports a “flexible” system that allows people to show proof of vaccination, past Covid infection or a recent negative test. “There’s a lot of emphasis in my field [on] this notion of respect for individual autonomy,” she says. “And it’s really not the value we need right now as a standalone. We need to balance it against other values like public health.”

Officials in 19th-century Gibraltar wouldn’t have been particularly concerned about striking this balance, and both Sawchuk and Tripp acknowledge that the colony is an imperfect model for contemporary pandemic management strategies. “It was a different time,” Sawchuk says, “a different disease.” But the researchers believe it is important to reflect on Gibraltar’s historic epidemics, which show that key experiences during times of public health crises are repeated across the centuries. 

“Many of the fundamental mitigation strategies that we put in place have been around for hundreds of years,” says Tripp, citing the examples of quarantines and health passports. “The idea of immunity has been around even before we understood how diseases were transmitted. So when we talk about unprecedented times, [today] really isn’t that unprecedented.”

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Vaccine passports and the freedom to travel | News, Sports, Jobs

Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch
Not only face masks but plastic hats, coats and booties were required to tour a Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese factory near Parma, Italy.

Ihave traveled internationally numerous times in my adult life, and I always experience something new.

My husband and I just got back from 12 days in Italy and Poland, with a wealth of “first times.” We attended a friend’s ordination in St. Peter’s Basilica, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Although we have visited the Vatican and Rome before, it was novel to be there as part of this meaningful celebration in the life of the church instead of as tourists seeking a Sistine selfie.

We caught the end of fashion week in Milan (window shopping only), and then grazed our way through the Emilia-Romagna, a region in Italy famous for its Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Parma ham and balsamic vinegar. Because of our flight connections, we took an extended stopover in Warsaw, our first trip to Poland. We learned how to make pierogi, the iconic Polish dumplings. We toured a vodka museum and one devoted to life under communism. We caught rides with Uber drivers in tiny Skoda cars.

None of those experiences would have been open to us without our CDC vaccine cards, which showed we’d been vaccinated against COVID-19. We needed them for the international flights, most ground transportation and for admission to many museums, tourism sites and even some restaurants. We had to show our cards to enter Vatican City.

We were prepared for this. We even made laminated photocopies of our vaccination cards to reduce the wear and tear on the originals. (Don’t laminate your original cards, travelers. You’ll probably need to update them.)

Needing vaccinations to travel wasn’t new for us. Before attending a friend’s wedding in India in 2005, my husband and I took at least a half-dozen jabs. They were all recorded on a yellow World Health Organization card, which I don’t recall ever having to show to anyone. Even so, we appreciated the protection against hepatitis, typhoid and a bunch of other diseases I don’t even remember.

This time, I’d already been vaccinated against COVID-19 well before the trip, but I got my flu shot, updated my tetanus immunization and took a first shingles jab in the weeks leading up our departure. Nobody required this of me; I would have done it without any travel plans because my doctor recommended it and because I want to avoid getting sick.

We also weren’t novices at wearing face masks, although not usually for such extended periods of time. We had to wear them even on our overnight flight, through all the airports, on the train, and in most of the indoor locales we visited. We had to do this even though we had tested negative within 72 hours before our first flight and immediately before our return home.

It was an inconvenience at times. We walked a lot, so putting on a mask to go inside could be hot and uncomfortable. (It was also an incentive to eat and drink as often as possible, which was the only time masks were removed in indoor public spaces — except for an occasional quick photo.)

But everyone was wearing masks, even the uniformed kids we saw near our hotel in Rome, which was close to a primary school. We never saw anyone complain, protest, or throw a fit. People just got on with it. They didn’t mistake an occasional inconvenience for a violation of their rights.

So it’s been jarring to return to Iowa to hear all the same political claptrap about needing freedom from vaccine mandates and mask requirements. Last week, Gov. Kim Reynolds was at it again, saying to a conservative radio audience that she’s talking to legislative leaders about trying to negate federal vaccine and testing regulations for workers at large businesses.

“(Iowans) have said enough is enough,” Reynolds said during a WHO Radio interview Wednesday. “They are tired of the overreach, they are tired of the mandates.”

You’d think Iowans would be even more tired of the suffering, deaths and business disruptions caused by unchecked COVID-19 infections.

Italy was hit hard by COVID-19 in 2020. Today, 70 percent of its residents are fully vaccinated, compared to 55 percent of Iowans. During the entire pandemic, Iowa has recorded 14,893 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people, according to New York Times data. Italy, home to 60 million people, has recorded 7,811 cases per 100,000, just over half of Iowa’s tally.

Even in Iowa, where GOP leaders have tried to outlaw mitigation efforts such as school mask requirements and government vaccine mandates, COVID-19 cases are finally waning again. But with continued vaccine resistance, new disease variants and zero mitigation requirements, there’s nothing to stop another winter surge. I’ve learned a lot from traveling over the years, including how to pack light and to collect memories instead of a bunch of souvenir dust-collectors. What I’ll always remember from this trip was the blessing of our friend’s ordination and time spent with wonderful people in Rome, the sharing of delicious pasta dishes with fellow travelers near Parma, the joy on the faces of Polish dancers in Warsaw’s Old Town.

Masks and vaccine mandates won’t define this trip and they didn’t impose on our freedom. They gave us the security to have these life-enhancing experiences without worry about bringing home a life-threatening disease.


Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa

government and politics for more than 30 years.

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Spain travel advice: Latest foreign office update – check your passports | Travel News | Travel

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Expect vaccine passports for travel ‘in the next couple of months’: LeBlanc

It could still be a while before Canadians can access a singular proof-of-vaccination system for international travel, according to Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

In an interview on CTV’s Question Period airing Sunday, LeBlanc said that while Ottawa is still aiming for a “fall” timeline to implement the framework, he expects it to go live “in the next couple of months.”

In August the government announced that it was collaborating with the provinces and territories to develop a “pan-Canadian approach” that would facilitate cross-border travel.

“Using a proof of vaccination will provide foreign border officials with the vaccination history needed to assess whether a traveller meets their public health requirements and provide a trusted and verifiable credential for when they return home,” the Aug. 11 statement read.

At the time, they said they were focusing on making the certification digital but that documentation would be accessible in all forms.

LeBlanc said a vaccine passport of sorts remains top of mind among his colleagues, especially after outlining the details of a new policy that requires all employees and passengers in the federally-regulated air, rail and marine transportation sectors to be fully vaccinated as of Oct. 30.

“The Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marco Mendicino has been working across the government of Canada but obviously, with the Public Health Agency [of Canada] and provincial partners, because they are the holders of the data in terms of who’s been immunized in their provinces,” he said.

He said that a host of provinces have developed their own provincial passports, Quebec being the first.

The federal equivalent will be a “confirmation of the provincial data,” he said.

Following the government’s announcement about its mandatory vaccination policy, the National Airlines Council of Canada said it’s in support of the move, but a standardized proof-of-vaccination system needs to be developed quickly.

“Because consultations could not be held during the election campaign concerning mandatory vaccination requirements for air travellers, further to today’s announcement we are urgently looking forward to immediate engagement with officials on the implementation details and proposed regulations, including the responsibilities of government agencies,” a statement reads.

“Timelines are very tight to implement the travel rules. While we are committed to effective implementation it is imperative that the federal government quickly develop a standardized and digital proof of vaccination for air travel.”

The European Union’s Digital COVID Certificate, valid across the continent, has been in place since July.

In a statement to, Isabelle Dubois, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said Canadians can expect a “factual document that shows a traveller has been vaccinated against COVID-19.”

“It is expected to have a common look and include the holder’s COVID-19 vaccination history, such as the number of doses, vaccine type(s), and date and place where doses were administered.”

Dubois said safeguards are being built into the technical systems to protect the privacy of users, and that the federal government won’t have access to the vaccination registries.

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COVID-19 Task Force Hasn’t Ruled Out US Domestic Vaccine Passports

Dr. Anthony Fauci today stated that the possibility of the federal government requiring vaccine passports for domestic air travel within the U.S. is “still on the table”, among other policies under consideration.

As the White House’s Chief Medical Advisor, Fauci appeared earlier today on NBC News’ ‘Meet the Press’ to answer some of reporter Chuck Todd’s questions about the Biden administration’s continuing response to COVID-19.


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When asked whether a vaccine mandate for domestic flyers was still under consideration by the COVID-19 task force, Fauci said: “The team has a lot of things on the table, nothing has been taken off the table. That decision has not been made.”

His response echoes a remark made on September 10 by Jeff Zients—the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator—who, when questioned about the Biden administration’s stance on requiring vaccinations for domestic air travel, said: “I think we have a very strong track record that shows we’re pulling available levers to acquire vaccinations and we’re not taking any measures off the table.”

But, everyone seems to be on board as far as mandating vaccinations for inbound foreign travelers. Last Wednesday, a senior White House official let slip that the government is developing a “new system for international travel”, which would replace the U.S.’ current blanket restrictions on travelers from many foreign countries.

Based on Zients’ comments, Reuters reported that the scheme will likely include both vaccination requirements and compulsory pre-travel testing, and involve a comprehensive new contact-tracing system in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Because the new system would mean lifting current catch-all bans on travelers from certain countries, existing international travel restrictions won’t be relaxed while the Delta variant-driven fourth COVID-19 surge continues.

Separately, Fauci stated last week that he would personally support the implementation of a vaccine passport program for domestic flyers. “I would support that if you want to get on a plane and travel with other people that you should be vaccinated,” Fauci said during a September 12 interview, according to Newsweek.

The U.S. Travel Association immediately railed against Fauci’s stance, saying that the existing precautionary measures in use by airlines and airports, such as mask-wearing, provide sufficient protection from COVID-19, even amid Delta and any other potential variants of concern.

It’s no surprise that travel sector players would collectively refuse to support any policy that threatens to diminish consumer demand after the devastation the pandemic inflicted on the industry last year.

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Most Australians comfortable with vaccination passports for domestic travel and venues, poll reveals | Australian politics

A majority of Australian voters would be comfortable with vaccination passports as a precondition of future domestic travel, and with entertainment venues requiring proof of inoculation before entry, according to the latest Guardian Essential poll.

With Labor intending to use the resumption of parliament on Tuesday to urge the Morrison government to offer a one-off $300 payment to every fully-vaccinated Australian to increase incentives to get the jab – the latest poll of 1,098 respondents captures the nation in a cautious mood.

The survey shows a majority of people (62%) think 80% or more of the Australian population should be fully vaccinated before Australia reopens its international borders and removes all restrictions resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The data indicates that 72% of respondents would support rules requiring people to prove they are vaccinated before travelling interstate, while 63% would back a requirement that people prove they are fully vaccinated before entering public venues, like restaurants.

With the dangerous Delta strain triggering restrictions that have forced millions of Australians into lockdown, a majority of respondents (67%) oppose the recent anti-lockdown protests, with 57% saying they “strongly” oppose them.

The protests are supported by 18% of respondents. While some Liberal and Nationals MPs fear there is a growing backlash in their base about the lockdowns, 72% of self-identified Coalition voters in the sample say they oppose the protests. Support is highest (31%) among respondents who identify as intending to vote for someone other than the major parties or the Greens.

While a majority of politicians and public health officials are now pleading with the public to get vaccinated as quickly as possible given the current risks, the latest Guardian Essential survey demonstrates there is significant residual hesitancy in the community about taking the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Just under half of respondents (47%) say they would be willing to get the Pfizer vaccine but not AstraZeneca, while 24% say they would be willing to get either jab. Only 3% of the sample say they would be willing to get the AstraZeneca vaccine but not Pfizer, and 14% continue to say they won’t get either.

While some hesitancy remains, 64% of the sample now reports they would get vaccinated as soon as possible, or reports being vaccinated with either one or two doses, with that cohort building steadily since April.

The Morrison government has faced significant political pressure about the slow pace of Australia’s vaccination rollout. Back in February, 65% of respondents approved of the prime minister’s performance. In the latest poll, that’s down to 50%.

The Labor leader Anthony Albanese has suffered a significant drop in voter approval in the latest poll, going from 41% in July to 34% in the latest data – a negative movement outside the survey’s margin of error.

The opposition leader’s disapproval is also up three points to 38%. It is unclear what has prompted the slide, but Labor last week elected to dump its proposed changes to negative gearing and to support the Coalition’s stage three tax cuts that predominantly benefit higher income earners.

Morrison remains comfortably ahead of Albanese on the better prime minister ranking, 45% to 26%, with 29% of respondents saying they don’t know which person would perform better in the top job.

With Sydney still in the grip of the Delta outbreak, the Gladys Berejiklian government has also fallen below 50% voter approval for the first time during the pandemic.

A fortnight ago 54% of respondents approved of the state’s handling of the crisis, and that’s fallen to 47%. Back in March, approval of the state government stood at 75%. Half of the NSW-based respondents in the latest survey also think Berejiklian did not lock down Sydney fast enough to suppress the curve of infections.

Approval of the Victorian government, meanwhile, has edged back over 50% (54% approval).

Ahead of parliament’s resumption on Tuesday, the Morrison government unveiled $100m more in support for the aviation sector. There is majority support in the Guardian Essential survey (66%) for the Coalition to reinstate the jobkeeper wage subsidy, and 59% of respondents say the federal government should provide financial support to people and businesses affected by future lockdowns.

Respondents are split over whether the Morrison government is providing sufficient support to help people manage the impact of the latest restrictions, with 37% of respondents saying not enough, and 47% expressing satisfaction.

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Scammers hitting millions of people waiting for passports, BBB warns

(NewsNation Now) — Passport scams are on the rise as the processing backlog allowing scammers to take advantage of impatient travelers ready for summer travel.

The Better Business Bureau said scams are increasing as the reported wait time for a passport is between 12 weeks and 18 weeks, even if you pay for expedited processing. That’s because of ripple effects from the coronavirus pandemic that caused extreme disruptions to the process at domestic issuance facilities and overseas embassies and consulates.

“Scammers, posing as passport expeditors are stepping in and convincing their victims for a higher fee they can get quickly get through the processing time, including the initial internal intake of the applications, and mailing,” said Steve Bernas, president and CEO of BBB of Chicago and Northern Illinois. “Along with money losses in these scams, passports contain critical personal information that unlocks identity theft for years to come.”

BBB provided a list of tips to protect Americans against passport scams:

  • Watch for spoofers pretending to be a government agency. It’s extremely easy for making phone calls, e-mails, texts, and even phony websites to look like their coming from a real agency.
  • Never trust an unsolicited phone call or email pretending to be the State Department or Passport Agency asking for personal information or payment of fees.
  • Always check out any company with BBB.ORG before you do business with them.
  • Any form of unusual forms of payments like gift cards, wire transfers, even bitcoin are “Tip off’s to the Rip off.”
  • If you have lost money or encountered a scam, please report it to the BBB Scamtracker and help protect other consumers and your community.

The State Department and Department of Homeland Security have already taken steps to ease issues related to Americans abroad with expired passports who are seeking to return home.

The departments announced in May that U.S. citizens who are currently overseas and whose passports expired on or after Jan. 1, 2020, would be able to use their documents to reenter the United States until Dec. 31, 2021. That provision does not apply to travel between third countries unless it is a transit stop.

Rachel Arndt, deputy assistant secretary of state for passport services, said the department is increasing COVID-19-reduced staffing throughout the United States as pandemic restrictions are eased. But she said last week Americans needing to apply for or renew a passport should do so at least six months ahead of when they plan to travel.

“We really encourage folks to apply for or renew their passport at least six months ahead of when you’ll need one to avoid any of those last-minute problems,” she told reporters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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New Yorkers face long wait for passports, altered travel plans due to pandemic

The federal government should beef up staff to clear the passport backlog created during the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer said at a news conference Sunday.

Schumer said his office has been “deluged” with calls from constituents whose travel plans are in jeopardy because of delays.

“New Yorkers are missing weddings, they are missing business trips, they are missing birthdays, they are missing reunions with loved ones they haven’t seen in a year and a half,” Schumer said.

Last week, State Department officials said the backlog is between 1.5 and 2 million passport applications. And while they are moving staff back into offices around the country, there is no current relief from the current 12 to 18 week wait time, a steep increase from pre-COVID times.

Schumer estimated as many as 100,000 New Yorkers have handed in their passport paperwork and are in what he called “passport purgatory.”

He stood at his Manhattan office with several people whose travel plans are hanging in the balance, including Cindy Sundersingh, a teacher from Valley Stream who is supposed to go on a vacation to Portugal with her daughters on Aug. 1.

Sundersingh, a New York City schoolteacher who worked in-person during the pandemic, said she didn’t realize her passport was up for renewal. Before the pandemic, she said, the renewal time was three to four weeks.

“This is the trip of a lifetime for them,” she said of her daughters, Jamie, 20, and Haylie, 14. “I’m hoping after a tough year for everyone, we can do this.”

Schumer pointed out the people calling his office for help have reservations and tickets for their travel but have been waiting weeks and even in some cases months to get passports and visas, he said.

“We are calling on the State Department to put more emergency personnel in those two areas — passports and visas,” he said.

In a briefing with reporters on this issue last week, State Department officials said they are bringing back employees who had been out of the office due to the pandemic and are expanding overtime at all locations.

Rachel Arndt, deputy assistant secretary for Passport Services Bureau of Consular Affairs, said the agency is looking to increase its workforce but that it takes some time to hire staff.

“Last-minute passport appointments are extremely limited,” Arndt said. “U.S. citizens who wish to travel overseas this summer and do not currently have a passport may need to make alternate travel plans,” she said.

Sundersingh said her work schedule does not give her flexibility to make other plans.

“We just have this one block window (to travel) because I have been working summer school as well,” she said. “I really hope I get my passport in time.”

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