The European Union’s Digital COVID-19 Certificate ‘Vaccine Passport’ System is now operational

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The European Union's Digital COVID-19 Certificate ‘Vaccine Passport' System is now operational
A flag of the European Union waves in the wind near a traffic light showing red in Berlin, Germany, on Nov. 30, 2011. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

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

The credential, known as the EU digital COVID certificate, indicates whether a traveller has been fully immunised against COVID-19, has received a recent negative test result, or has immunity due to a recent recovery. It is in the form of a QR code that can be displayed on an electronic device such as a smartphone or printed.

The European Commission (EC), the bloc’s executive body, said in a statement that 21 Member States had already begun issuing certificates ahead of the July 1 deadline, and that five EU countries would begin using the system today. There is a six-week phasing-in period for the issuance of certificates for EU countries that require more time.

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

Under the framework, EU member states will still be able to apply a “emergency brake” and re-impose travel restrictions for vaccinated and recovered people if the epidemiological situation deteriorates significantly, such as barring visitors from a region with 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 necessary and proportionate to protect public health,” the EC said in a statement.

Persons with a digital credential who are fully vaccinated should be exempt from travel-related testing or quarantine 14 days after receiving the last dose of an EU-approved COVID-19 vaccine. The same exemption should be granted to previously infected individuals who recovered and received only a single dose of the vaccine. Member States may also waive travel-related testing or quarantine restrictions for people who have received the first dose of a two-dose series.

Individuals who have recovered from a COVID-19 infection and have an EU digital COVID certificate should be exempt from travel-related testing or quarantine for the first 180 days following a positive PCR test.

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

While several EU countries conducted trials of the new system prior to July 1, it is unclear whether police or border guards have the necessary equipment and manpower to check travellers.

Earlier this week, Europe’s air travel industry warned that plans for the certificate rollout were still “fragmented,” warning of long lines for passengers unless countries better coordinated deployment.

“Certificate verification will jeopardise summer travel for EU passengers,” said a coalition of Europe’s largest airlines and airports in a joint statement. “The risk of chaos at European airports is real as passenger traffic increases in the coming weeks.”

“Duplicate checks and a lack of verification tools provided to airlines will result in unnecessary airport queues and longer processing times if Member States do not address these issues,” they added.

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