Sunday

23rd Jan 2022

Analysis

The EU's Covid-19 certificate - how it will work?

  • All member states are expected to be able to issue certificates by the 1st of July (Photo: Steven Thompson)

What is it? Can you travel without a certificate?

The EU Digital Covid Certificate (to give it the full, formal, name) will prove the health status of people travelling across the bloc. They will not cost anything, and be available in digital form or on paper, both with a QR code and a digital signature.

The certificate is not obligatory, and nor is it a guaranteed right to travel. And you will still need your passport, or another form of identification.

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  • The QR code will be used to ensure the authenticity and validity of the certificate (Photo: European Commission)

But they will be valid in all EU countries. Following a year of patchwork responses from national governments, this initiative aims to restore unrestricted travel across the EU - a fundamental right that has been limited or prohibited during the coronavirus pandemic.

Does the certificate ensure harmonised travel measures across the EU?

No. When travelling, the EU certificate holder should, in principle, be exempted from travel restrictions.

However, member states might impose further limitations if exceptional circumstances arise in an EU country, such as the appearance and spread of a new variant.

In such a case, the respective member state must notify and justify this decision to the European Commission and the other EU countries.

How many version of the certificate there are?

The certificate types comprise: vaccination, negative test, and recovery. This last one confirms that the holder has recovered from Covid-19, after registering a positive PCR test.

It is up to member states to decide whether to accept rapid antigen test or only PCR tests. Antibody-testing is currently not recognised, as they are considered to be less reliable.

How long is a certificate valid?

While the validity period for PCR tests will be 72 hours, and for rapid antigen tests (where accepted by a member state) 48 hours. The recovery certificate will be valid for 180 days, from the date of the initial positive test.

It is not immediately clear for how long the vaccine certificate will be valid for.

When will the certificate be ready for use?

The EU Commission launched, on 1 June, the system that allows member states to validate each others' certificates, dubbed the "EU gateway".

So far, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Croatia, Poland, Spain and Lithuania are connected to the gateway and have started issuing the first EU certificates.

All member states are expected to be able to issue certificates by 1 July. But there will be a transitional period of six weeks for those EU countries that need additional time.

Can you use the certificates for other purposes?

Yes. Beyond travelling, the particular use of these certificates will be decided by member states - if they have the necessary legal base in place. In some countries, for example, it may be used to allow entry to restaurants or cinemas.

Who issues these certificates?

Trusted national authorities such as hospitals and test centres will be responsible for issuing these documents. It could also be done directly via a national eHealth portal.

Do you need to pay for your tests?

So far, yes. The EU Commission has given €100m to purchase Covid-19 tests that qualify for the issuance of the EU certificate, to support member states in making testing more affordable.

However, national capitals are still negotiating the administrative procedures.

In the EU, a PCR test can range from €50 to €190, depending on where the test is performed and how quickly the result is needed.

Belgium recently decided to offer travellers who are not fully vaccinated two PCRs for free.

Which vaccines are accepted?

EU countries should issue vaccination certificates for people who have received any of the jabs approved by the European Medicine Agency.

But they can decide to accept other vaccines that have only been approved in a specific member state or by the World Health Organization (WHO).

So far, BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson&Johnson vaccines are the only vaccines approved in the EU.

But Hungary, for example, has also approved the Russian Sputnik vaccine and Chinese Sinopharm jab.

What if you are not fully vaccinated? What if you have recovered from Covid-19 and you are still awaiting your second jab?

A person with only one dose can still travel. In this case, the certificate will indicate that there is only one dose administrated. But it will be up to the individual member states to decide whether or not to accept it.

The EU Commission has proposed that people who have received a single dose of a two-dose vaccine after being recovered from Covid-19 should be considered fully vaccinated for travel. But this decision is still up to national authorities.

What about non-EU nationals?

All non-EU citizens, who have the right to travel in the EU or are residing in one member state, will also be eligible to have this certificate. They will have to provide all necessary information about the vaccination, test or recovery from the illness.

The EU Commission could also accept third-country certificates under the same conditions as the EU-wide certificates - if their systems are interoperable with the EU's framework, and secure enough.

The commission recently called on member states to lift restrictions for non-EU tourists who are fully-vaccinated against Covid-19.

Will the EU certificate be compatible with other systems?

The EU-wide certificate is considered a medium-term solution until international standards and interoperable systems are in place.

Which information will the certificate include?

The certificate will contain personal data such as the holder's name, date of birth, the certificate-issuer, and a unique-identifier for the certificate.

For a vaccination certificate: the vaccine type and manufacturer, the number of doses received, and the date of vaccination will also be included.

For a test certificate: the type of test, date and time of test, place, and result, will also be included.

For a recovery certificate: the date of the positive test result, and validity period, will also be included.

How will personal data be processed?

All health data remains with the member state that issued the Covid-19 certificate. There will be no database of health certificates at the EU-level, and no personal data will be exchanged via the EU gateway.

For how long will the certificate be in place?

This is a temporary measure that will be suspended once the World Health Organization declares the end of the pandemic.

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