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EU Covid summer travel pass: What is it and who is eligible?

The EU wants a certificate to help facilitate travel within the bloc. We explain what it is, who could get one and what it will mean for EU travel

The European Commission yesterday (March 17) presented its idea for a Digital Green Certificate, which would facilitate travel within the EU during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The pass would be valid in all EU member states. It is not thought it will be valid outside of the EU, in countries such as the UK, for example.

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The pass would be a way for people to prove whether they have been vaccinated against Covid-19, if they have recovered from Covid-19, or if they have had a recent PCR or antigen test that shows they are negative for the virus. 

Having one of these proofs would enable them to travel with the certificate. 

The Commission has said that if the idea is approved, it will set up a digital infrastructure by summer that would facilitate the authentication of the Digital Green Certificates. 

It would also require member states to introduce “necessary changes in their national health records systems”. 

What is the certificate?

The Digital Green Certificate would be an EU-wide system for people to prove they are safe to travel during the Covid-19 pandemic, either because they have been vaccinated, had Covid-19 already or because they have had a recent test that shows they are negative for the virus. 

Despite its name, the digital pass would also be available in paper format. It will be valid in all EU countries and be available in all national languages. It will be completely free.

How will it work?

People who have been vaccinated against Covid-19, have recovered from it (within the past 180 days) or who have taken a Covid-19 test will be issued with the certificate. This will contain a QR code.

People can then present this certificate to travel companies who will scan the QR code to see if the people can travel.

It should be noted that the use of the Digital Green Certificate will not be mandatory and people can choose to use separate negative PCR test certificates to travel. 

The idea is that each body or institute that can issue a vaccination or a Covid-19 test (hospital, laboratory, vaccination centre, etc.) will have its own digital signature key that will be stored in a secure database in each country. 

The European Commission will build a gateway to allow all certificate signatures to be verified across the EU. 

“The personal data encoded in the certificate does not pass through the gateway, as this is not necessary to verify the digital signature. The Commission will also help Member States to develop a software that authorities can use to check the QR codes,” the Commission has stated.

Who is eligible?

Firstly, people who have been vaccinated against Covid-19.

There are currently four vaccines approved for use in the EU. 

For three of them, two doses of the vaccine are required. It will be up to individual member states whether they will grant someone a Digital Green Certificate if they have only received one dose of these vaccines.  

Some countries in the EU have approved vaccines that are not authorised at EU level, such as the case with Hungary approving the Sinopharm and Sputnik V vaccines. People vaccinated with these types will still be able to receive a certificate but it will be up to each member state whether to accept or deny the person entry based on it. 

The certificate can also be given to people who have tested negative for Covid-19, either by PCR test or antigen test. However, some EU countries, such as France, are so far only allowing entry to people who have had PCR tests.

The final way someone can receive a certificate is if they have recovered from Covid-19. 

People will need to wait at least 11 days since they tested positive before getting a certificate. Equally, they will need to have had Covid-19 no more than six months before as there are still uncertainties about how long immunity against Covid-19 lasts after having had the virus. 

These certificates will be accessible to EU citizens, to their family members, to legal residents of the Member States, as well as to people legally staying in one of the EU countries, such as foreign holidaymakers who wish to visit several countries of the Union.

Will citizens who are not yet vaccinated be able to travel to another EU country?

Yes. The Commission promises the travel pass will not be discriminatory. 

“The certificate is an opportunity for Member States to adjust the existing restrictions on public health grounds. We would expect them to take this proof of people’s Covid-19 status into account to facilitate travel,” the Commission states. 

Is it the same thing as a vaccine passport?

The idea of a “vaccine passport” has been debated for a while, but there is no clear definition for what it would be.

Some consider it a type of pass that will show who has been vaccinated and therefore allow vaccinated people access to international travel and also to enter cultural spaces such as cinemas, stadiums, restaurants etc. 

The French government has stated it is against this type of pass.

The Digital Green Certificate is currently only aimed at facilitating travel within the EU. It is a way of navigating language barriers, simplifying paperwork and bringing consistency to EU travel rules. 

French Prime Minister Jean Castex was asked about “vaccine passports” in an interview with BFMTV on Tuesday (March 16)

He said: “We would like it to be studied in a European framework.

“France's position has been constant on the subject: we do not want to create false security. There are still uncertainties about contagion, immunity, and questions about the validity of this passport.”

“There are also ethical considerations. It may or may not allow access to certain places, but above all it must be consistent at the European level, and France has pushed hard for a community approach.”

The Commission has so far only presented its proposal for the certificate. 

The European Parliament and EU Member States still need to approve the proposal and then the appropriate infrastructure and systems will have to be created.

Read more:

Why UK has not yet adopted France's relaxed travel rules

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