Advisory committee calls on Catalan government to widen use of Covid passport

The region currently has the fourth-highest incidence of the coronavirus among Spain’s territories, and there are fears of further spread during the upcoming long December weekend

Un trabajador comprueba el certificado covid de un cliente en Córcega
A staff member checks a Covid passport in Corsica.PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA (AFP)
Bernat Coll

The committee that is advising the Catalan regional government on its approach to the coronavirus pandemic has recommended widening the use of the so-called “Covid passport” to more economic activities. The group of experts, which is made up of 34 figures from the healthcare sector, has handed over its report to the region’s health department, which will now revise it. The experts are aiming to combat the sensation of normality among the population given the ongoing rise in infections, minimize risks in closed spaces, and limit the spread of the virus ahead of the approaching long weekend – December 6 and 8 are national holidays in Spain. The committee works independently from the regional government and its advice is not binding, but it will serve as a reference point for future decisions taken by the authorities.

For six weeks now, people wanting to visit nightclubs and music festivals in Catalonia have to present the European Union’s Digital COVID Certificate. This can be accessed in Spain via each region’s healthcare system, and certifies whether the bearer has been vaccinated against Covid-19, has recently recovered from an infection, or has been tested for the virus. What’s more, since the start of November, the certificate – which features a scannable QR code – has been required in the region for indoor musical festivals, and celebrations in events taking place in hotels and restaurants with dancing in closed spaces.

Political leaders in the region have been saying for some days now that the regional government is studying the implementation of a Covid certificate for other sectors, but it has not yet stated which ones.

Some members of the advisory committee consulted by EL PAÍS admitted that they did not know why the government was not going further and suggested that political reasons rather than health ones were at play. “Not taking measures is an unnecessary risk,” three experts agreed. Another source stated that such a move will not happen immediately, and that the intention of the authorities is to get the certificate ready ahead of the December long weekend.

According to the latest Health Ministry report, Catalonia is the region with the fourth-highest cumulative incidence of the coronavirus per 100,000 inhabitants over 14 days, with more than 144 cases. Top of the list of the 17 territories are Navarre (278), Basque Country (221) and Aragón (168), with the Balearic Islands just below Catalonia (143.7). The national average for this data point currently stands at 104 and has been rising sharply in recent days.

The authorities are predicting an increase in mobility during the December holiday and increased social interaction. A source from the committee admitted that the long weekend will be a “testing ground.” One of the priorities of the experts is to use the Covid passport to combat the idea that normality has returned.

Eating and drinking in a restaurant, where you converse with other patrons without a mask on, is not the same as seeing a movie or going to the theater
Rober Güerri, the head of the infectious diseases section at the Hospital del Mar

The regional government will first, however, have to fine tune its justification for requiring a Covid passport for a wider range of activities if it is to secure the approval of the courts. Since the central government earlier this year lifted the coronavirus state of alarm – one of the three emergency situations the administration can implement – Spain’s regions have had to seek approval from judges for any measure that impinges on fundamental rights. In fact, for some time now the Catalan administration has been calling on the central Health Ministry to introduce the measure across the country rather than it being left up to the regions to implement.

It appears that the Covid passport will become a requirement in Catalonia for patrons of bars and restaurants, but its future use in other cultural activities is not so clear. “Eating and drinking in a restaurant, where you converse with other patrons without a mask on, is not the same as seeing a movie or going to the theater, where you are silent and don’t move,” Rober Güerri, the head of the infectious diseases section at the Hospital del Mar and member of the advisory committee, said to EL PAÍS earlier this week.

Non-invasive measure

The head of the preventive medicine and epidemiology service at Barcelona’s Clínic Hospital, Toni Trilla, who is also on the committee, referred to this as well, and stated that the Covid certificate is a very non-invasive measure and highly useful. “It allows for a reduction in the risk of contagion in hospitality and major sporting events,” he argued. Experts insist that the certificate “does not oblige” anyone to get vaccinated because it allows people who have not been immunized to use it by getting tested for the coronavirus.

The debate on new restrictions is not just being heard in Catalonia. The Basque Country, for example, has already requested authorization from the courts for the certificate to be required for access to nightlife venues and restaurants. Galicia, meanwhile, has called on judges to permit the requirement of a passport or a negative test from those visiting patients in hospitals and among healthcare workers.

Earlier this month, the advisory committee backed lifting the requirement for children aged over six to have to wear face masks while playing in school yards, but this week the Catalan government opted not to take that proposal forward. The general secretary of the region’s education department, Patrícia Gomà, explained that the rise in cases that is being seen in the Catalan education system since the report was sent, as well as the increase among the general population, means this would not be advisable. “I don’t believe that this is the right time,” she said. The cumulative incidence among the under-nines in Catalonia is 145 cases per 100,000 over 14 days – this is the highest figure for any age group. Gomà pointed to the fact that the under-12s are the only group in Spain not eligible for vaccination, and ruled out carrying out any measures that are not “prudent.”

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