What is the EU Digital COVID Test Certificate (GreenPass) System?
The European Union has introduced the EU Digital COVID Certificate (EU-DCC), which will serve as a documentation that a person has either been vaccinated against COVID-19, recently received a negative COVID-19 test, or is protected against the disease following a recovery. The certificate is completely free of charge. For all European citizens and residents, it will serve as a COVID pass enabling people to travel within Europe, attend events, and access facilities without restrictions such as testing or quarantine. By launching EU Digital COVID Certificate, the European Union (EU) aims to create an efficient, interoperable system to facilitate free movement during the pandemic.
How does the EU Digital COVID Certificate work?
Each EU Digital COVID Certificate contains a QR code with a digital signature to ensure that it is authentic. Each issuing institution have a unique signature key and all these signatures are stored in a secure database in each country. When a certificate is checked, the QR code is scanned to verify the signature. The European Commission has also created a gateway to enable the verification of all certificate signatures across the European Union (EU).
The personal information of the certificate holder, on the other hand, is not sent over the gateway as it is not required for the verification of the signature. Thus, while the certificate contains information such as name, date of birth, date of issuance, and data on vaccination, test, or recovery status, this information remains safe and private during verification in another Member State.
In general, national authorities are responsible for the issuance of the certificates. Depending on the country, they can be made available by various institutions such as testing facilities and health authorities or can directly be obtained from an online health portal. The main format of the certificate is a digital version that can easily be stored on mobile devices. However, a paper version is also available on request.
For vaccination certificates, the document has also included the name of each vaccine received, including booster shots. Moreover, a vaccination certificate must be issued after the administration of each dose. All the “Member States” are obliged to accept the certificates issued for vaccines with an EU marketing authorization. Although national authorities may choose to accept other vaccines to remove restrictions, it is not obligatory.
For test certificates, the “Member States” has established a list of nucleic acid amplification tests such as RT-PCR, and rapid antigen tests (RAT) eligible for the issuance of a test certificate. However, any member state keeps the right of choosing to accept only nucleic acid amplification tests (NAAT).
How long is the Validity period of the EU Digital COVID Certificates?
As mentioned before, EU Digital COVID Certificates system encompasses three types of certificates as following vaccination, test, and recovery certificates. These certificates may differ from each other in the term of validity periods.
A vaccination certificate is valid if at least 14 and no more than 270 days have passed since the last dose of the primary vaccination. Therefore, for a single dose vaccine, the certificate is valid for 9 months following the first and only dose. For a two-dose vaccination process, the certificate is valid for 9 months after the second and last dose. However, if the person has received additional doses of vaccination after the second dose as also known as booster shots, the nine-month validity period is not applicable as they would have prolonged protection against the disease. A test certificate is valid for 72 hours following a negative PCR test result or for 24 hours following a negative rapid antigen test result. Finally, a recovery certificate is valid for 180 days following the date of the first positive PCR test result.
Can I get the EU Digital COVID Certificate?
All EU citizens, their family members, and non-EU residents who have the right to travel to other states within the EU are eligible to get the Digital COVID Certificate.
Children can also obtain an EU Digital COVID Certificate in the form of a vaccination, test, or recovery certificate. It has been also agreed that children under 12 should not have to undergo travel-related tasting, and children traveling with their parents should not be required to quarantine if the parents do not have to go into quarantine.
Although Member States decide not to provide this option, EU citizens who received a vaccine in a third country can request an EU Digital COVID Certificate from the Member State of their nationality or residence if they provide valid documentation of vaccination with an authorized vaccine.
Can I still travel to another EU country without the EU Digital COVID Certificate?
The EU Digital COVID Certificate does not constitute a precondition to travel or move within the European Union. Therefore, citizens or residents without a certificate can still freely travel to another Member State. However, those without the certificate may be subject to restrictions including testing or quarantine depending on the specific policy of the Member State. Still, as the EU Digital COVID Certificate also covers test certificates and recovery certificates, even if you have not yet been vaccinated, you can obtain it.
What about the digital COVID certificates issued by third (non-EU) countries?
As of now, 37 non-EU countries and territories have joined the EU Digital COVID Certificate (Green Pass) system, resulting in a mutual recognition of COVID certificates. Thus, the COVID certificates of those countries are accepted by the EU and the EU Digital COVID Certificate is accepted by those countries.
What is the potential use of EU Digital COVID Certificates?
Although the use of the EU Digital COVID Certificate for domestic uses is not covered by the EU law, Member States may also choose to use the certificate to regulate access to certain events, facilities, along with some forms of transport and accommodation. For example, Italy has introduced a two-level COVID certificate system featuring a Basic Green Pass and a Super Green Pass to regulate access to indoor events and activities such as theater, cinema, concerts, sports events, conferences, indoor dining.
Many governments around the world have introduced similar systems that help facilitate free and safe movement or event entry during the pandemic. For instance, the German Federal Government has launched an app that informs people if they have contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19. The Corona-Warn-App also allows hosts to create QR codes for events, meetings, and venues so that visitors can check in with a QR code. If a visitor tests positive after the event, the app helps the person to anonymously inform the visitors of the same event, meeting, or venue. Similar contact-tracing mobile applications have been launched in many countries such as Canada (COVIDAlert), Australia (COVIDSafe), Ireland (COVIDTracker), and the UK (the NHS App). The UK has also implemented an NHS COVID Pass that can both be used for international travel and at venues, facilities, or events that choose to request the NHS COVID Pass as a condition for entry. Likewise, the Singaporean government has introduced the Notarise portal to enable people travelling abroad to get either a Pre-Departure Test Certificate or Vaccination Healthcerts.