From Wednesday morning, Belgian residents with plans to travel within the European Union this summer can request a coronavirus certificate to prove that they are Covid-safe.
The European 'Digital Covid Certificate' should facilitate travel from 1 July, but the Belgian certificate - which connects to the EU's gateway system - is already available via the Covidsafe.be app (for iOS and Android), or a paper document that can be requested, from today.
"We are already launching it now so that we can test it for two weeks and issue a lot of certificates in time," Barbara Van Den Haute of Digital Flanders, which is responsible for the digitalisation of public services in Flanders, told VRT NWS.
"There are also people who are already travelling around. Then they can immediately use the real certificate," she said.
What is a Covid certificate?
The certificate is a document, available on paper and digitally, containing a QR code with all the essential information needed to travel.
It will allow people to "travel safely and freely within the European Union," according to the website. In practice, it concerns three different types of certificates that can prove that someone is Covid-safe:
- A vaccination certificate: proves that you have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, with an EMA-approved vaccine. In most cases, there is also a waiting period of several weeks after the second injection, as the protection is only optimal at that time. For Belgium, the vaccination certificate is valid for one year, from the day of vaccination.
- A test certificate: proves that you have taken a negative Covid-19 test. A PCR-test cannot be older than 72 hours before departure, and a rapid antigen test cannot be older than 48 hours.
- A recovery certificate: proves that you have recovered from Covid-19 after a previous positive Covid-19 test. This recovery certificate is valid from 11 days after the positive test, and remains valid for 180 days from the time of the test.
This means people can have more than one certificate, because they will receive a separate certificate for each test and each vaccination (both the first and second shot).
Children under 6 do not need a certificate to travel. Those aged 6 to 18, however, will need one, just like adults. However, as children are currently not being vaccinated, they will only receive recovery and/or test certificates for the time being.
Additionally, each EU Member State is free to set different conditions for travellers aged 6 to 18, meaning the conditions of all countries (and regions) are available on the ReOpen EU website.
How do you obtain a Covid certificate?
The simplest way to get your personal Covid-certificate is to install the CovidSafeBE-app.
After selecting your language, you will have to answer three questions to find out which Covid certifications are available to you. By then using your digital ID (such as via Itsme) to sign in, you can have access to the certificates to download and save them.
People who prefer to use a website, can go to covidsafe.be, where they can find links to several government websites depending on which Region they live in, and download the certificate there.
Lastly, you can also request to have your vaccination certificate sent to you by post by calling the helpdesk. Flemish residents should call 078 78 78 50, Walloons can call 071 31 34 93, and people living in the Brussels-Capital Region can 02 214 19 19.
However, there will be a waiting period between ordering and receiving the certificates.
What information is on the certificate?
The certificate contains data such as the holder's name, date of birth, date of issue, information about the vaccination, the Covid-19 test or recovery from the virus, and a unique QR code.
No other health data is shared for privacy reasons, the countries that people visit are not allowed to keep the data, and there is no central EU database that stores them.
The certificate is available in English, and in the three official country languages: Dutch, French and German.
When will the certificate become available to you?
Vaccination certificates become available the morning after the vaccination centre has entered the data into the Vaccinnet database.
There is no set time limit for this type of data entry: it is usually done on the day of the vaccination itself, but it may also be done a few days later.
Test certificates become available one and a half hours after the lab has entered the test data into the database of the Sciensano national health institute. This is usually around the time you are notified of your test results.
Recovery certificates, too, are available one and a half hours after the lab has entered the test results of a positive Covid test in the Sciensano database. However, it is important to note that even though the certificates are available from that time, they only become valid 14 days later.
When can you start using the certificate?
The certificate is available in Belgium from today (Wednesday 16 June), but that does not mean that it can be used to travel abroad right away.
What does such a certificate cost?
The certificate itself is free of charge. However, there may be a charge for taking a PCR test.
As announced at the previous Consultative Committee, children between 6 and 17, and adults who have not yet had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated, will get a full refund for up to two PCR-tests during July, August and September (with a maximum of €55 per test).
Can you travel outside the EU with the certificate?
The coronavirus certificate is only valid for travel within the EU, but the European Commission is working with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to ensure that it will also be recognised elsewhere in the world.
While experts believe there is a good chance that popular holiday destinations across the world will accept the certificate, travel outside the EU is still strongly discouraged this summer.
Within the EU, Member States are at approximately the same vaccination level, and have fairly similar epidemiological trends, but this is not the case in the rest of the world.