EU 'vaccination passports' for travel this summer: how they will work

EU 'vaccination passports' for travel this summer: how they will work
Credit: Belga

On Wednesday afternoon, the European Commission presented its proposal for the "Digital Green Certificate" - so-called vaccination passports - to make free travel in the EU possible again this summer.

To avoid discrimination, the certificate will provide proof that a person has been vaccinated against Covid-19, has natural immunity from it, or has a recent negative test result, according to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

During a press conference on Wednesday, she stated that she hopes that the Member States and the European Parliament will adopt the certificate quickly, so that it can be used as early as June.

What will it look like?

The certificates will be issued in digital format, so they can be shown on a smartphone, or on paper, depending on the preference of its holder.

Both versions will work with a QR code that contains necessary data, as well as a digital signature that should guarantee the "authenticity, integrity and validity" of the certificate.

To improve cross-border acceptance, the information on the certificate should be written in the language(s) of the issuing Member State, and English.

Which information will the certificate include?

It will contain necessary information such as the name and date of birth of the holder, the issuing Member State and a unique identifier of the certificate. Additionally, depending on whether the holder has been vaccinated, tested, or recovered, the added info will differ.

- A vaccination certificate will state the vaccine product and manufacturer, the number of doses and the date of vaccination.

- A test certificate will state which type of test was used, as well as the date and time of the test, at which testing centre the test was taken, and the result.

- A recovery certificate will show the date of the holder's positive test result, the issuer of the certificate, the date of issuance, and the validity date.

How will the certificates be checked?

The Commission stressed that, as shown during the first months of the pandemic, the "uncoordinated and hasty reintroduction of internal border controls" does not stop the virus, but instead causes societal and economic disruption.

Checking people's certificates "cannot as such justify the temporary reintroduction of border controls at internal borders," they said, adding that those controls must remain a measure of last resort, in line with EU law.

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Can the certificate be used for something else than travel?

The EU wants to avoid discrimination and does not want to say if the certificate can be used to, for example, lift or relax restrictions, or allow vaccinated people to take part in certain activities.

"That is up to the individual Member States to decide," said Reynders. "We are organising all legal instruments on the basis of free movement."

What will it cost?

Nothing. The certificate will be delivered to citizens free of charge.

What happens to your data?

The health data of the holders remain in the hands of the Member State that issued the certificate in question.

When the certificate - with a digital signature to protect it against falsification - is checked, the QR code is scanned and the signature verified.

Each issuing body (such as a hospital, a test centre, or health authority) has its own digital signature key, which are all stored in a secure database in each country.

Member States agreed on a trust framework outline to ensure timely implementation of the Digital Green Certificates, their interoperability and full compliance with personal data protection.

The European Commission will build a gateway, through which all certificate signatures can be verified across the EU. The personal data of the certificate holder, however, does not pass through the gateway, as it is not necessary to verify the digital signature.

Which vaccines will be accepted?

Member States should issue vaccination certificates regardless of the type of Covid-19 vaccine, according to the Commission.

Member States will be required to accept the vaccines that have received EU-wide marketing authorisation, which are currently Pfizer/BioNtech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. However, countries will also have the option to accept vaccination certificates issued concerning other vaccines.

When will it be ready?

The Commission's proposal still has to be approved by the Member States and the European Parliament, which sets a tight timeframe.

Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas said in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Wednesday morning that he hoped the certificate would be ready by June.

"The certificate should be usable from the beginning of the summer. And summer starts on 1 June," he said.

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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