What is the EU digital Covid certificate?
The digital Covid certificate is aimed to help EU residents demonstrate whether they have been vaccinated when travelling within the bloc. The system has been developed at the insistence of member states that are economically reliant on tourism in the hope it will help to ease travel restrictions.
How will the system work?
The free certificate will be a scannable QR code that travellers can show on a piece of paper or on their phones, similar to the airport boarding passes familiar from pre-pandemic times.
It is designed to include people who have not been vaccinated as well: it can also show if you have tested negative for Covid-19 or if you have had the illness and recovered.
The certificate is not mandatory for travellers. It remains up to each member state to set their own Covid-19 health policies, and therefore to choose whether to treat vaccinated people that arrive in their country differently to non-vaccinated people.
Some countries will choose to exempt vaccinated people from requirements such as to undergo a Covid-19 test or quarantine, particularly if they want to attract tourists. Some EU countries have begun to already exempt vaccinated arrivals from restrictions, including Croatia, Greece, and from June 7th, Spain.
People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their final dose.
When will it go live?
The system is currently being trialled, and is set for formal launch on July 1st, though countries can choose to link in later. Greece has announced that it is ready to use the system earlier as it is keen to start its summer tourism season. Ireland is to join on July 19th.
How is data treated?
In order to link up to the system national healthcare systems must collect vaccination data in a standard format so that they can issue the certificates for their residents.
The data that the certificates must contain includes name, date of birth, date of issuance, date of vaccine received, test or recovery from Covid-19, and a unique identifier.
The information is not stored in a central EU database, but remains kept in each country’s national healthcare system. The digital architecture the EU has built essentially provides a way for this data to be presented in a code that can be read and understood in any of the 27 countries when travellers arrive.
What vaccines are accepted?
The vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency (AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson) are automatically accepted. Member states can choose to also accept vaccines that are not approved by the European Medicines Agency. Some of these have been used within the EU, such as Russia’s Sputnik and China’s Sinopharm in Hungary.
What about travel beyond the EU?
The European Commission says it is “working with the World Health Organisation to ensure that certificates issued in the EU can be recognised elsewhere in the world as well”.
What about Northern Ireland?
The State’s HSE has the responsibility of issuing Covid-19 digital vaccination certificates for residents of the Republic. Eligibility for vaccination throughout the EU is generally linked to where you have a social insurance or healthcare number, in Ireland’s case a PPS number.
The European Commission has said that countries outside the EU could choose to join the system but this appears to be unlikely in the case of the UK. That means it will be up to each member state to set policy on how to treat travellers who have been vaccinated through the UK National Health Service.
The NHS has a Covid app that can be used as a certificate: cabinet minister Michael Gove announced this week that the countries that have agreed to accept it as proof of vaccination now include Barbados, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Gibraltar, Iceland, Moldova, Bulgaria, and Estonia.