The Digital Green Certificate proposed yesterday by the European Commission and their plan to get vaccinated people traveling again, will leave key decisions up to member countries, including whether to accept the Russian and Chinese vaccines, Politico reports.
1. EU countries can choose to allow Russia and China vaccines
According to the Digital Green Certificate plan any EU country which allows vaccinated people to skip current pandemic induced travel restrictions like testing and self-isolation, must accept other countries’ vaccination certificates ‘under the same conditions.’ However, this obligation only applies to EU-approved Covid-19 vaccines, leaving EU countries able to ‘decide to accept other vaccines in addition.’ This means Russia’s Sputnik V and China’s Sinopharm vaccines won’t be covered by the obligation, although some EU countries are using them, for example Hungary, but individual EU countries will be given the choice of whether to allow these vaccines or not.
2. A difficult balance
It is a difficult balance for the EU. Officials are trying to navigate different vaccine regimes whilst at the same time get people moving again in order to restart the economy. They are also having to balance warnings that Russian and Chinese vaccines shouldn’t get the same status as EU-authorised vaccines, against the need to get citizens vaccinated as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile, director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Andrea Ammon, stated on Tuesday that there still isn’t enough information yet regarding how long virus immunity from vaccines or prior infections lasts, to justify granting special privileges. The Digital Green Certificate plans have also raised concerns that unvaccinated travellers could face discrimination, to which President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has already said that the certificate should not cover just travellers’ vaccinations but list their tests or recovery from the virus as well. ‘We aim to help member states reinstate the freedom of movement in a safe, responsible and trusted manner,’ she said Wednesday.
3. Free movement rights
The plan makes clear that the certificate ‘cannot be a pre-condition to exercise free movement rights and cannot … be a pre-condition to make use of cross-border passenger transport services such as airlines, trains, coaches or ferries.’
The plan also includes an “interoperable test certificate” which, although it would still be up to the destination countries to determine “for how long a negative test certificate should be considered valid”, is designed to improve the acceptance of test results in fellow EU countries. There is also an ‘interoperable certificate of recovery’ which the Commission argues is necessary to ensure that patients who had COVID-19 but continue to test positive despite no longer being infectious, aren’t prevented from travelling. However, the plan states that this certificate should not be issued ‘sooner than twenty days after the first positive test results.’ Another aim of the plan is to crack down on unreliable or fabricated test results, which the Commission says ‘pose a significant risk to public health.’ Several EU countries have reported incidents of falsified test results, causing issues for airlines that have been fined for accepting them.
4. Personal data and accessibility
The plan assures that the Digital Green Certificate would have a ‘very high’ level of data protection, with only relevant national authorities in the destination country and cross-border transport services using the personal data to verify a person’s vaccination, test or recovery status. Personal data provided in the certificate would be limited to what is “strictly necessary”, with information such as the brand of vaccine taken and the date and place of vaccination. The certificate should also not require a database at the EU level.
5. Purpose of the Digital Green Certificate
The Digital Green Certificate would be free of charge and available to EU citizens and their family members, whatever their nationality, as well as non-EU nationals living in an EU country. The Commission warns that its plan should not be understood as ‘encouraging’ restrictions on free movement which countries have put in place in response to the pandemic. Although the plan doesn’t preclude certificate-holders from quarantine or testing restrictions and they could even be denied entry. However, the proposal does require authorities to alert other EU countries as well as the Commission to any of these restrictions at least three days before they’re introduced, along with a justification, precise scope and duration.