European Union’s Digital COVID-19 Certificate ‘Vaccine Passport’ System Goes Live

July 1, 2021 Updated: July 1, 2021

The European Union on Thursday launched its digital COVID-19 certificate system, a “vaccine passport” type credential meant to smooth border crossings between the EU’s 27 member states.

Called the EU digital COVID certificate, the credential indicates if a traveller has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, has received a recent negative test result, or has immunity due to recent recovery. It takes the form of a QR code which can be displayed on an electronic device such as a smartphone or printed out.

The European Commission (EC), the bloc’s executive body, said in a statement that 21 Member States had already started to issue the certificates ahead of the July 1 deadline, while five EU countries were set to start using the system today. There is a phasing-in period of six weeks for the issuance of certificates for those EU countries that need more time.

“In March, we promised to have an EU-wide system to facilitate free and safe travel within the EU by the summer holidays,” said EC President Ursula von der Leyen, in a statement. “Now we can confirm that the EU Digital COVID Certificate system is up and running.”

Under the framework, EU member states will still be able to hit an “emergency brake” and re-impose travel restrictions for vaccinated and recovered persons if the epidemiological situation deteriorates significantly, for instance barring travellers from a region showing a spike in more infectious variants of COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.

“Under the new rules, Member States must refrain from imposing additional travel restrictions on holders of an EU Digital COVID Certificate, unless they are necessary and proportionate to safeguard public health,” the EC said in a statement.

Fully vaccinated persons with the digital credential should be exempted from travel-related testing or quarantine 14 days after having received the last dose of an EU-approved COVID-19 vaccine. The same exemption should apply to previously infected people who recovered and who received a single dose of the vaccine. Member States also have the option to lift travel-related testing or quarantine restrictions for people who received the first dose of a 2-dose series.

People who have recovered from a COVID-19 infection and possess an EU digital COVID certificate should be exempted from travel-related testing or quarantine during the first 180 days after a positive PCR test.

Those with a negative test in the digital certificate format should be exempted from quarantine requirements, unless they come from areas heavily impacted by the virus, which are regions designated as “dark red” by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. EU member states have agreed on a standard validity period for tests—72 hours for PCR tests and, where accepted by individual countries, 48 hours for rapid antigen tests.

While several EU countries have run trials on the new system before July 1, it is not clear whether police or those controlling borders have the equipment and manpower to check travellers.

Europe’s air travel industry cautioned earlier this week that plans for the certificate rollout were still “fragmented,” warning of long lines for travellers unless countries better coordinate deployment.

“Certificate verification will undermine smooth summer travel for EU passengers,” groups representing Europe’s largest airlines and airports said in a joint statement. “As passenger traffic increases in the coming weeks, the risk of chaos at European Airports is real.”

“Duplicate checks and lack of verification tools provided to airlines will cause unnecessary airport queues and longer processing times if not addressed by the Member States,” they added.

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