EU Covid passports will allow travel to restart – here’s how they will work

The tourism sector has been among the hardest hit by the pandemic, as lockdowns drag into the spring, borders remain closed and planes are grounded.

In the UK alone, monthly air passenger arrivals to the country fell from 6.8 million in February 2020 to 112,300 in April 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic, amounting to a drop of 98.3%, according to the Office for National Statistics. After peaking in August, the numbers fell again as restrictions were re-imposed.

But the rollout of Covid-19 vaccination programmes across the UK and Europe, and the possibility of “vaccine passports”, has given the sector renewed hope.

Announced on 17 March, the European Commission presented a proposal to create a “digital green certificate” to facilitate free movement of citizens in the European Union – a right that has been put on hold as countries grapple with containing the spread of the coronavirus.

The pass will “aim to help member states reinstate the freedom of movement in a safe, responsible and trusted manner,” president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said on 17 March. It is also key for the bloc’s economic recovery.

The certificate system is a way of streamlining travel around the EU, the Commission’s proposal shows, as countries have imposed varying restrictions on their borders and asked for different documents from travellers before entry.

READ EU’s Von der Leyen fires warning at UK over vaccine exports during bloc’s launch of Covid passports

What is a digital green certificate?

The certificate – or Covid passport as it’s commonly referred to – is proof that a person either has been vaccinated against Covid-19 with an EU authorised vaccine, has received a negative test result or has recovered from Covid-19.

It would be available in both digital and paper format.

How will it work?

Valid in all EU countries and free of charge, the certificate would have a QR code with a digital signature to protect it against falsification, according to the commission’s fact sheet. It would be in both the individual’s national language as well as in English.

If an EU country continues to require individuals with the certificate to present a negative test or quarantine, it must notify the commission and other member states, justifying the decision.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s tracker, as of 7 March, 42.6 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered in EU member states and European Economic Area countries.

What information will the certificate feature?

The commission’s announcement said it would “include a limited set of information”, such as the individual’s name, date of birth, the date of issuance of the certificate, relevant information about the vaccine, test or recovery, as well as a unique identifier.

When will the certificates be ready?

The commission said it is aiming to have the technical work and proposal completed in “the coming months”. It still needs to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council.

The commission said that the certification system is a “temporary measure” and will be suspended once the World Health Organisation declares the end of the international health emergency.

How do I get a “digital green certificate”?

This will depend on national authorities.

The commission’s fact sheet says that the pass could be issued by hospitals, test centres or health authorities.

What about a vaccine certificate for Britons?

On 22 February, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs that the government would review the potential role of “Covid-status certification” in helping venues reopen safely as the country begins to lift its third nationwide lockdown.

The review is being led by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, and “will include assessing to what extent certification would be effective in reducing risk, and the potential uses to enable access to settings or a relaxation of Covid-secure mitigations,” according to the government’s 60-page lockdown roadmap document.

READ BA owner calls for digital vaccine passports to kickstart travel, boost ailing industry

Johnson told the House of Commons when announcing the review that the government would be “mindful of the many concerns surrounding exclusion, discrimination and privacy”.

On 15 March, the Cabinet Office published a call for evidence on the role of the potential certification scheme on re-opening the economy and reducing restrictions on social contact. The review will report before the fourth step in the roadmap to lift lockdown is taken, which is set to be no earlier than 21 June.

As of 16 March, more than 25 million people in the UK have received the first dose of the vaccine and nearly two million are fully vaccinated, according to the latest government data. On 17 March, the government reported that there were 5,758 people who tested positive for Covid-19 and 141 people who died within 28 days of a positive test.

Which countries will welcome vaccinated tourists?

On 9 March, the Greek tourism minister said that the country would welcome vaccinated tourists from 14 May.

“We aim to open tourism by 14 May with specific rules and updated protocols,” Haris Theoharis said, speaking at the IBT Berlin tourism fair. “Until then, we will gradually lift restrictions if conditions allow.”

READ Greece joins Cyprus with plans to welcome vaccinated Brits from 14 May

Cyprus said that from 1 May it would allow vaccinated British tourists to visit the country without having to present a negative test or quarantining.

To contact the author of this story with feedback or news, email Bérengère Sim

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