CORONAVIRUS

The EU Digital Covid Certificate: Who will be issuing them and what are they for?

The so-called ‘coronavirus passport’ will come into force across the 27-country bloc on July 1, and aims to standardize documents such as proof of vaccination or PCR test results

A passenger checks in at Madrid's Barajas Airport in March 2021.
A passenger checks in at Madrid's Barajas Airport in March 2021.Alberto Ortega / Europa Press

From July 1, the European Union is going to put into use a “coronavirus passport” that will allow its citizens to travel across the 27-country bloc without the need for quarantines – assuming the epidemiological situation does not take a new turn for the worse. The “EU Digital Covid Certificate,” as the scheme is known, is seeking to standardize the documents issued by each country so that they can be recognized by each member.

What is the passport for?

The EU Digital Covid Certificate aims to guarantee the use of national certificates across the union that prove that the holder has been vaccinated against Covid-19, has had a negative PCR or antigen test for the virus, or has recovered from the illness thus enjoying a period of immunity from reinfection. The Digital Covid Certificate should be available to residents of Spain, regardless of nationality. This is likely to include United Kingdom nationals, who should not be affected by the fact that their country has now left the European Union via the process commonly known as “Brexit.”

Can countries use the passport for other purposes?

This is within their powers. For example, some countries want this document not just to be used for the free circulation of travelers across the EU, but also for social events. Austria wants to use it for access to hotels, restaurants and cultural activities.

Who will issue these certificates?

The member states will decide this. In the case of Spain, the regions – which are in charge of their own healthcare systems as well as the overall control of the pandemic in their territories – can be assigned this task. The Health Ministry will place the technical means necessary at their disposal so that they can consult the central vaccination register.

What format will they be available in?

Citizens can choose between paper, digital or both.

Why is this being done?

After a number of EU countries announced that they would create such certificates, Brussels decided that it should guarantee a model that will allow for the recovery of full movement within the EU. The bloc is also seeking to put an end to fake PCR test and vaccine certificates, by creating a homogenized system where the data can be verified.

What data should be included?

The data included should facilitate cross-EU functionality – i.e. so that a country can accept a document that has been issued by another EU member. In particular, the certificate should include a barcode or QR code that allows for the verification of the authenticity and validity of the document, among others. The certificate will have to be in the official languages of the issuing country and in English. What’s more, another document will contain the details of the Covid-19 vaccine the holder has received, the result of a PCR test or information that guarantees that the bearer has overcome the virus should they have contracted it previously.

Why have these three scenarios been chosen?

The Commission believes that scientific literature has by now consistently concluded that the Covid-19 vaccines contribute to breaking the chain of transmission an that those who have had Covid-19 in the last six months have a reduced risk of infecting others.

How can you prove that you have had Covid-19?

The document must include the date of the first positive PCR test. That certificate is only valid for 180 days.

Do I have to pay for the document?

No, the certificate is free. To avoid fraud, a fee may be charged should the holder repeatedly lose the document.

When does it come into force?

On July 1. For countries that are not ready in time, an introductory period is being considered. In Spain, the certificate will come into force ahead of that date – in fact it may start as early as today with a pilot program, coinciding with the reopening of Spanish borders to global visitors who have been vaccinated.

Does this mean that being vaccinated is obligatory for travel?

No. In fact, the passport cannot be a precondition for travel.

What advantages will I have if I have the Spanish certificate?

The Spanish Covid certificate will guarantee that the bearer the same rights as local citizens when in another EU country. For example, if an Austrian restaurant only permits patrons with the certificate, the Spanish document will be equally valid.

Which vaccines are allowed?

The EU will accept all of those authorized by the European Medicines Agency (EMA): Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Janssen. However, a country will also be able to accept certificates expedited for anyone who has received a vaccine validated by an EU member state, one that has temporary authorization or whose use has been approved for emergency reasons by the World Health Organization (WHO). The EU regulation only states that there can be no exceptions: if one state accepts that the residents of another member (or a third country) can travel with vaccines that have not been approved by the EMA they should extend this possibility to the rest of the members of the 27-country bloc.

Are measures such as quarantines ending?

This is the aim of the certificate, but each country reserves the right to impose new restrictions if they consider that the epidemiological conditions require such measures. In this case, they must be communicated with 48 hours notice, if possible, to the rest of the EU member states.

How long will the regulation in force?

So far, for 12 months. The aim of the European institutions is to lift all of the restrictions on freedom of movement when the epidemiological conditions allow. The European Commission will have to present a report four months after having started to apply the regulation and three months before this one-year period comes to an end.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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