A million Europeans obtain EU Covid health pass ahead of vote

AFP
AFP - [email protected] • 8 Jun, 2021 Updated Tue 8 Jun 2021 13:45 CEST
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A policewoman at the Bregana border crossing between Croatia and Slovenia scans QR code on a EU's digital Covid passport on June 2, 2021. - A passenger with a digital Covid passport proves that he received a vaccine against coronavirus (Covid-19). (Photo by Denis LOVROVIC / AFP)

More than one million Europeans have obtained the new EU Covid health certificate being rolled out in each country to unlock travel within the bloc, the European Commission said on Tuesday.

EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders announced the figure to the European Parliament ahead of a vote to enshrine the scheme in law in time for the continent's all-important summer tourism season.

It is expected to be passed by a big majority after agreement between MEPs and the EU's 27 member states on details, with the vote result known early on Wednesday.

The certificate, also known as a Covid health pass or Covid immunity pass, is to be used for intra-EU travel from July 1st, which would then spare travellers the need for quarantine or further testing for travellers.

It will show the bearer's immunity to Covid-19 either through vaccination or previous infection, or their negative test status.

But the commission wants as many EU countries as possible to start earlier. But it relies on countries launching their own digital Covid passes that can be recognised across the EU. The EU will not produce its own app. Some countries are further ahead of others.

A spokesman for the EU Commission told The Local: “Every member state will need to develop their national implementation for the EU Digital Covid Certificate. National wallet apps could be developed, but are not the only option. Integration in existing tracing or other apps, commercial solutions, digital storage of PDFs and of course paper certificates are also possible.”

Justice Commissioner Reynders said: "The more certificates we can already issue, the easier the process will be during the summer -- otherwise, we risk a big bang on the first of July, which we cannot afford."

READ ALSO: How will the EU's Covid passports work for travellers?

Nine countries

As of Tuesday, nine EU countries were already issuing the certificates -- including the sunny tourist destinations of Greece, Spain and Croatia. It is also being trialled in parts of Germany.

Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Lithuania and Poland were the others.

"More than a million citizens have already received such certificates, and many more will follow in the next weeks and months," Reynders said.

The EU Digital Covid Certificate can be presented either in digital format, on a smartphone for example, or printed out on paper.

It features a QR code for verification, which border officials and venue staff can use to check against digital signatures stored securely in Luxembourg servers.

Only minimal data of the bearer are included on the certificates, to prevent identity skimming, and the EU legislation surrounding their use is due to expire after a year, so that they do not become a fixture with potential Big Brother uses in the future.

EU lawmakers and capitals also agreed that, when it comes to proof of vaccinations, only the jabs authorised by the European Medicines Agency -- so far those from BioNTech/Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson -- would be accepted in all EU countries.

But individual countries can also decide to accept, for their territory only, others, such as one produced by China, or Russia's Sputnik V vaccine.

Money and concessions

To prevent discrimination against the unvaccinated -- particularly younger Europeans who have not yet been able to access jabs given in priority to the elderly -- much emphasis has also been put on testing.

The parliament failed to make Covid tests for travel free of charge, but extracted money and concessions from the European Commission to make them more affordable.

Reynders said work was ongoing to also expand the use of the EU Digital Covid Certificate so that it is accepted beyond Europe.

Talks have been under way with the United States, for some sort of mutual recognition of vaccination status.

But have run up against the problem that there is no single federally backed certificated in the US, only a myriad of state and private vaccination cards almost impossible to authenticate abroad.

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AFP 2021/06/08 13:45

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