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Wednesday 6 December 2023 Dublin: 6°C

Explainer: What does the EU Covid Cert mean for travel this summer?

The cert will allow free travel for vaccinated people as well as those who have had a recent negative PCR test.

FROM THE MIDDLE of next month Ireland will operate the EU Digital Covid Certificate (DCC), allowing cert-holders to bypass pandemic entry restrictions.

This week the European Parliament voted to enshrine the document in law, just in time for the continent’s summer tourism season, which many countries depend on.

What is the Covid Certificate?

The digital certificate provides proof that a person has either:

  • been vaccinated against Covid-19;
  • received a negative PCR test result; or
  • recovered from Covid-19 in the previous nine months.

The certificate will facilitate free movement of EU citizens during the pandemic in the European Union and European Economic Area countries such as Norway and Iceland.

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 is 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.

The information contained on the certificate will include:

  • Your name
  • Your date of birth
  • The date of issue
  • Relevant information about your vaccine, test or recovery from Covid-19
  • A unique identifier number 

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.

A digital version of the certificate can be stored on a mobile device and people can also request a paper version – both will have the QR code as well as a digital signiture to ensure it is authentic. 

Member States have agreed on a common design that can be used for both electronic and paper versions to facilitate the recognition. 

How do I get one?

Each member state is in charge of issuing the certificate and there will be no charge to obtain the pass. The European Commission has said they could be issued by test centres, health authorities or directly via an eHealth portal. 

The Irish government has not yet provided details of how the administration of the certificate will work and is advising against all non-essential international travel before 19 July. 

The government has a short time-frame in which to put a system in place. While proof of vaccination or a positive PCR test will be more straightforward, proof of a positive Covid-19 diagnosis over the previous nine months may require confirmation from a health service that is currently still trying to claw back its systems following the recent cyberattack.

More than one million Europeans have already received the new certificate, the European Commission said this week.

As of Tuesday, nine EU countries were already issuing the documents, including the sunny tourist destinations of Greece, Spain and Croatia, as well as the bloc’s major source of tourists, Germany.

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

What if I’m not eligible for vaccination and haven’t had Covid-19?

People can still get one of these certificates if they have a negative PCR test before travel, but in Ireland each test costs €100 and in some European countries they are more expensive. 

To prevent discrimination against the unvaccinated – particularly younger Europeans who have not yet been able to access jabs given in priority to the elderly – the European Commission has put much emphasis 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. Ireland is to apply to this EU fund to subsidise costs.

- With reporting from AFP.

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