The European Parliament has given the green light to move forward with Covid-19 passports in hopes of allowing the Union’s tourism industry to open this summer. But what will the passes mean for tourists and holidaymakers in practice? We explain.
The European Parliament recently voted overwhelmingly in favor of adopting an EU-wide Covid-19 passport, which it hopes will be ready in time for the holiday season. ‘summer.
MEPs hope passports will make travel easier and more secure and boost the economies of countries dependent on tourism.
What are these Covid passports?
The documents, formerly known as ‘digital green certificates’ until MPs change them to ‘EU Covid-19 certificate’, will be available to EU nationals and legal residents – including Britons – who wish to travel within the EU.
The idea is that the document – which can be printed or stored electronically – will provide proof of vaccination, a recent negative coronavirus test, or recent recovery of the virus – meaning the holder has antibodies in their system.
The income and jobs generated by tourism are vital for a number of Member States – in particular France, Spain, Italy and Greece – who fear that a second summer without foreign visitors will turn out economically catastrophic.
Although the European Parliament supports the plan, member states are not yet in agreement, although some are understandably excited about the idea.
Some countries are already going their own way. France has tested its Health Pass on domestic flights to and from Corsica.
Denmark has developed a similar Covid digital passport called Coronapas which it uses nationally to allow bearers to visit hairdressers, bars and restaurants. It could be improved to allow international travel.
Austria will implement its coronavirus immunity card, giving vaccinated people access to bars, restaurants and events, by May 19.
Spain is testing its own passport for coronavirus – and has already said it will welcome foreign tourists from June 9 as long as they hold a health pass.
How will Covid passports work?
First, it won’t just be about downloading the app and entering the information to get the code. The pass will probably need to be issued by a doctor or health center. Since there is still so much to negotiate between the European Parliament and the Member States, there are no details yet on how this will happen.
Much will likely depend on individual states – from the availability of passes at vaccination or testing centers, to whether you need to make an appointment with your GP.
It is also not known how the millions of people who have already been vaccinated will get one.
What we do know is that the pass will have a QR code containing information indicating that the traveler wearing it has been vaccinated, or had a negative PCR result, or has recovered from the virus and is in theory immune.
It will serve as proof of immunity or at least proof of non-positive and can be scanned in a smartphone application.
What about non-EU countries?
The European Commission has been in talks with US officials over mutual recognition for some time. And European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hinted in a recent interview in the United States that fully vaccinated Americans could make it to Europe this summer.
The Commission would also work with the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure that the certificate is recognized in other countries as well – although it was recently reported that the WHO was not in favor of Covid passports.
But he only recently opened negotiations with a country close to the EU, the UK, despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying he wanted to allow overseas travel by May 17.
What about personal data?
The Commission said the QR code-based system would be safe and secure.
Things may change during the development of the system, but it has been suggested that sensitive personal data would be stored locally on smartphones and separated from information that the EU Gateway system (which still does not exist) could access.
It is understandable that such a system is vulnerable to fraud – something the developers and the Commission will have to work on to protect users.