Covid-19: a European certificate to facilitate travel this summer

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The European health certificate officially enters into force on Thursday. This document is intended to facilitate travel within the European Union and revive tourism, a sector severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. But there are fears about the spread of the Delta variant.

The European health pass, which comes into force on Thursday, July 1, must allow people to travel freely within the block on condition that they present proof of vaccination, a negative test or an immunization certificate after contracting the disease. This system should facilitate travel and revive tourism within the European Union this summer, however, under the threat of new disturbances linked to the Delta variant.

“The European Covid digital certificate”, the official name of this health pass, is free and must be recognized in the 27 EU countries, plus Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway. According to the Commission, all member states should be able to issue or accept them on Thursday, with the exception of Ireland, which, affected by cyberattacks, could take a little delay. As of Wednesday evening, 21 EU countries had already logged in to the system’s common portal and the other six were technically ready.

European regulations concern free movement, but Member States may decide to use this European certificate for other purposes (concerts, festivals, etc.) within the framework of their national law.

Vaccination, test or immunity

This “pass” applies to three situations: it certifies that a person has been vaccinated against Covid-19, that they have passed a negative test, or that they are immune after contracting the disease. It is up to the destination country to decide whether to accept rapid antigenic testing in addition to PCR. The EU recommends accepting both and harmonizing their period of validity (no more than 72 hours before arrival for PCRs and no more than 48 hours for antigens).

To prove that they have been immunized after infection, a person must provide a positive PCR test proving their infection. The validity period of this positive test is set at a maximum of 180 days, but states can decide to reduce it. Serological tests are not yet considered reliable enough to attest to this immunity.

How long?

This regulation is valid for twelve months. A period of “progressive application” is planned, with a grace period until August 12 for countries which are not ready by July 1 to issue certificates according to the European model. During this period, the other states must accept national documents on condition that they contain the data required at European level.

Which vaccines?

Countries are required to accept on their soil travelers vaccinated with the four products authorized at European level: those of Pfizer / BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. Member States may – but are not obliged – also to admit people vaccinated with serums authorized in certain EU countries (such as the Russian Sputnik used in Hungary), or with products approved by the WHO ( like Chinese Sinopharm).

More than quarantine?

The certificate is supposed to exempt its holder from an additional test or quarantine on arrival, but it is still possible for a Member State to introduce restrictions if the situation of the country or region of origin of the traveler is deteriorated. In this case the State must inform the Commission and the other countries if possible 48 hours before the introduction of these restrictions.

The Delta variant has already led Germany to add Portugal – where this variant has become predominant – to its list of countries at risk, which prohibits practically all arrivals from this state.

Travelers can consult the “Re-open EU” site which lists the conditions applicable in the various European countries. The main organizations in the aviation sector deplored on Tuesday the mosaic of national “disparate strategies” for the implementation of the health certificate, listing ten application solutions across the EU, at the risk of “significant malfunctions” and long queues for travelers at airports.

What support?

The certificate contains a QR code and a digital signature attesting to its authenticity, which can be read by all EU countries. It can be presented to the authorities responsible for controlling it in digital form on a smartphone, or printed on paper. It is up to the Member States to decide whether they integrate this certificate into their national tracing application, or whether they use a separate application.

The text provides that the certificate must only contain “strictly necessary” personal data, in compliance with European regulations (GDPR). These data are not exchanged between countries, only the key allowing to verify the authenticity of the certificate needing to be transmitted. The possession of such data by the country of destination or transit is prohibited.

And third countries?

The EU is in discussions with a number of third countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, for mutual recognition and interoperability of documents. In addition, Member States have the possibility of accepting any proof of vaccination of travelers from third countries, with a vaccine recognized by the EU or approved by the WHO.

The Twenty-Seven can also, but this is not an obligation, issue European health certificates on a case-by-case basis to travelers attesting to a vaccination administered in a third country.

With AFP

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