Travel

South Africa has banned foreign verification of vaccine passports as too expensive

Business Insider SA
Vaccine certificate authentication: no foreigners
  • South Africans are running into trouble in Malta and Oman because their vaccine certificates can not be verified.
  • The government website for the verification of QR codes is blocked for foreign users.
  • That can be bypassed via VPN – but that isn't viable for border officials, Malta told South Africans there.
  • A third phase of the vaccine certificate system is supposed to be globally usable, but for now that is considered too expensive.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

South Africa's vaccine certificates are being rejected in Malta, Oman, and elsewhere, because government agents there can not verify them.

And, for not at least, that will not change, because allowing foreigners access to a QR-code system available to any South African is too expensive, authorities say.

In South Africa, anyone can verify the QR code on any vaccine certificate via the same portal where those certificates can be downloaded: vaccine.certificate.health.gov.za.

Doing so requires only pointing a camera at the QR code, for immediate validation.

No, your QR code isn't valid
The response for an invalid QR code.

But that website is deliberately blocked to users outside South Africa. If a user from abroad tries to access it, the site will simply refuse to load.

"Our certificate like most in the world is verifiable only in SA borders. The cyber security cost associated with a globally verifiable 'passport' is huge," health department deputy director general Nicholas Crisp told Business Insider South Africa.

And opening up the South African government portal to foreign users presents too great a security risk, he said.

For South Africans trying to get into Malta, that has meant trouble. The country's health ministry did not respond to Business Insider, but told expatriates in Malta that it had managed to verify South African vaccine passports using a virtual private network (VPN), which makes a foreign user appear to be located in South Africa.

However, that is not a viable option for its border control agents, Malta said.

Meanwhile, travel agents have told the publication Travel News of trouble experienced by clients travelling to Oman and Dubai, because those governments could not verify their vaccine certificates.

Other countries accept certificates that are verified on departure rather than on arrival, Crisp said. Malta, for one, does not, and SA's health department is working on a solution, he said, after a meeting between the two sides this week.

Easing travel was a front-and-centre intention behind the certificates when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced their rollout in September.

"Streamlining and standardising proof of vaccination will also go a long way towards getting a number of international travel restrictions both from and into our country eased," he said at the time.

When the certificates were launched in October, health minister Joe Phaala described a multi-phase rollout that would make the system increasingly secure and more widely usable.

In November, Phaala announced third-party verification of QR codes, as is now routinely available within South Africa.

He has not said when the third phase – making the system internationally verifiable – is likely to be completed. 

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