People in France are one step closer to travelling within Europe without needing to quarantine or take a Covid test following the launch of the EU’s digital pass gateway system.
The technical system which underpins the pan-EU Digital Covid Certificate went live on June 1, with Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Croatia and Poland being connected to the gateway.
Other countries, including France, are technically ready to implement the system, while a few remain in the test phase.
Also known as a "vaccine passport" the digital certificate is intended to be recognised across the European Union.
What will it do?
It will demonstrate that the holder has been vaccinated against Covid-19, or has recently returned a negative test or has acquired immunity after contracting the virus within the past six months.
Member states have yet to agree whether a PCR or antigen tests are acceptable, and it may be that nations set their own test standards.
EU member states will allow entry to travellers who are fully vaccinated with one of the four European Medicines Agency approved vaccines: Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.
Individual states may also decide to accept travellers who have had other vaccines - such as Russia's Sputnik V, which is used in Hungary - or World Health Organisation authorised ones, such as China's Sinopharm.
If required, travellers can present authorities with a QR code, digitally via their smartphone or tablet, or a printed version. The code contains information showing that the holder is vaccinated, is immune, or has recently tested negative.
Does that mean we will not have to quarantine if we travel from one EU country to another?
In theory, yes. But it's possible that individual countries may adopt slightly different rules based on their health situation at the time, or that in the traveller's home state.
If a member state wishes to impose such emergency controls, they must inform their partners 48 hours in advance and travellers can consult the Re-open EU website to track rule changes.
What about travel with children?
France has announced that children from 12 to 18 can start to be vaccinated from June 15. Other countries in the EU have already started offering doses to children after the EMA authorised the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for 12 to 15 year olds.
But many will not be fully vaccinated in time to receive a certificate. As such, they may be required to take a test, though this has not been confirmed.
What about privacy?
Under EU rules, the certificate can only contain data "strictly necessary" to oversee safe travel and that the app respects Europe's strict data protection laws.
The certificate contains necessary key information such as name, date of birth, date of issuance, relevant information about vaccine/test/recovery and a unique identifier. This data remains on the certificate and is not stored or retained when a certificate is verified in another Member State.
For verification purposes, only the validity and authenticity of the certificate is checked by verifying who issued and signed it. All health data remains with the Member State that issued the EU Digital Covid Certificate.
Where can it be used?
The EU certificate will be valid in all 27 EU Member States, plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. So far, some 22 countries have successfully tested the system, which will be phased in from July 1 to August 12 across the bloc.
What about further afield?
EU member states are keen to start receiving visitors from countries like the US, the UK and Switzerland, for example.
Talks are underway with those governments to ensure certification methods are mutually recognised, as well as the World Health Organisation and air transport associations.