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For millions of people in the world, one of the most longed-for experiences in life prior to the pandemic is traveling normally. But if security requirements were abundant before the arrival of the virus, now they are almost extreme. To negative masks and certificates of COVID-19 the requirement of a document certifying that the traveler is vaccinated against the disease is being added in more and more nations.
This week the European Union (EU) took another step on the road to recover what it has called “a Europe without barriers”. In view of the progress in vaccination campaigns, the bloc promulgated on Monday the 14th EU Digital COVID Certificate, a document created to facilitate travel between citizens of its member countries, whether for work, family or leisure reasons. It does not apply to citizens of countries on other continents.
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On its website, the European Commission details that the EU Digital COVID Certificate facilitate the safe free movement of citizens in the European Union during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Samuel Parra, a Spanish jurist expert in data protection and privacy, emphasizes that the main objective of the certificate is to help resume mobility among the citizens of the block.
“The European legislator thought that mobility between countries is being restricted due to the difficulties we had to go through when we arrived at the destination, which on many occasions ruled out the possibility of going on vacation because we had to be quarantined for two weeks”, explains the Trade.
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After signing the document, the next step is for it to be published in the Official Journal of the European Union before it enters into force on July 1. From there it will be in operation for twelve months. However, some countries, such as Spain, have already made progress to facilitate its use.
“The EU Digital COVID Certificate will be introduced in all EU Member States. Countries can now start issuing and using it and it will be available in all EU Member States from July 1, 2021″ Indicates the European Commission.
It should be remembered that to date, the use of 4 vaccines against COVID-19 has been authorized in the EU: BioNTech-Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca y Johnson & Johnson.
Next, we review the main considerations to take into account about the EU Digital COVID Certificate.
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It is not a passport
The EU Digital COVID Certificate It is a digital accreditation that a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19, has had a test that has been negative or has recovered from the disease.
The document is free and will be issued by the national authorities of the member countries of the European Union. It is valid for the 27 EU countries, as well as Iceland and Liechtenstein, and Norway and Switzerland, which are in the test phase, could be added.
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Its characteristics are: it can be in digital or paper format, has a QR code, is issued in the national language and in English, is safe and reliable and is valid in all EU countries.
It is important to know that the certificate contains the necessary traveler information such as name, date of birth, date of issue, pertinent vaccine / test / recovery information, and a unique identifier.
“This data remains in the certificate and is not stored or preserved when a certificate is verified in another Member State. The certificates will only include the limited information that is necessary, which cannot be kept by the countries visited.”, Indicates the European Commission.
Will it help travelers?
Although the data that we have is still few because the document has just begun to work in some countries, everything indicates that the document will help to resume mobility in the block with more fluidity.
“The information that is available indicates that, indeed, the certificate is fulfilling its mission. It is very easy to obtain, almost all airports are already being able to identify it. At the moment it is being very well received. I believe that it will work and it will facilitate mobility between countries”, Says the jurist Samuel Parra.
The expert emphasizes that the certificate is intended for European citizens and, at least for now, its use is applied from country to country. “Moreover, in the case of Spain, it does not even serve us among our communities, but its use is only among the States. If I want to go from Spain to France, the certificate works for me, but if I want to go from one Spanish community to another, the certificate is not worth it.”, He points out.
However, Parra comments that there are already dialogues between several countries of the European Union so that their own national certificates are compatible with those of the bloc.
“I imagine that the idea in the end will be to open it to everyone to facilitate the transit of people. In addition, in the case of the European Union, if one reads the regulations that regulates the document, one realizes that although it has been created by COVID-19, one of the fields it contains is ‘what disease have you overcome’ or ‘what disease have you been vaccinated with’, then I believe that in a few years this certificate could be used to register many more diseases”, Says the lawyer.
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How does it work?
To protect against counterfeiting, the EU COVID Digital Certificate contains a QR code with a digital signature. When the certificate is verified, the QR code is scanned and the signature is verified.
Each issuing center of the document – such as a hospital, a test center or a health authority – has its own digital signature key. This information is stored in a secure database in each country.
The European Commission notes that it has created a website through which certificate signatures can be verified across the EU.
“The personal data of the certificate holder will not have to be transmitted through the portal, since it is not necessary to verify the digital signature. The European Commission also helped Member States develop national software and applications to issue, store and verify certificates and supported them in the tests necessary to join the portal.”, Indicates the European institution.
When traveling, the certificate holder must be exempted from restrictions on free movement. “Member States shall refrain from imposing additional travel restrictions on holders of an EU Digital COVID Certificate, unless such restrictions are necessary and proportionate to safeguard public health. In that case, for example as a reaction to new worrisome variants, that Member State would have to notify the Commission and all the other Member States and justify its decision.”.
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How will the certificate be obtained?
The issuance of the certificate is the responsibility of the national authorities. It could be issued, for example, by testing centers or health authorities, or directly through an electronic health portal.
The digital version can be stored on a mobile device. Citizens can also request a paper version. Both will have a QR code with the essential information of the bearer and a digital signature to guarantee the authenticity of the document.
EU member countries have agreed on a common layout that can be used in the electronic and paper versions to facilitate recognition.
Is it mandatory to travel?
No. While the certificate will facilitate free movement within the bloc countries, it will not be a precondition for free movement, which is a fundamental right in the EU.
In short, citizens can travel without a certificate, but in that case they must comply with current national requirements or restrictions. For example, they will need to undergo quarantines, tests on arrival or other measures.
The EU COVID Digital Certificate also serves to justify test results, often required under applicable public health restrictions.
“The certificate is an opportunity for Member States to adapt existing restrictions for public health reasons. The current recommendation on the coordination of restrictions on free movement in the EU will also be amended in mid-June with a view to the holiday season.”, Indicates the European Commission.
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More advantages than disadvantages
In addition to helping to improve mobility for citizens in the European Union, Parra highlights that an advantage of EU Digital COVID Certificate is that the data of the carriers will be protected.
“As the certificate is designed, it is prohibited for any body or State to save the certificate information, that is, they can simply read it when we arrive at an airport, but not store the data. On the other hand, there is no centralized database of COVID-19 certificates at the European level, but each State has its multiple databases depending on how its geography is distributed”, He says.
He adds that the software used both to create the certificate and to read the content is open source and can be consulted by any citizen. It has been published to show transparency and trust.
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“Among the advantages is also that its expedition is free, you can take it on your cell phone, on paper, in an email, in a PDF file, whatever you want. The data it contains is minimal. I now see no disadvantage in the document. However, perhaps the certificate could be misused by private companies to discriminate against people “, considers Parra.
He explains that although the European Union has expressly prohibited the use of the document for other purposes, within a few months there could be cases in which this has occurred. “For example, prohibiting entry or restricting access to establishments to those who do not show their certificate, the document is not designed for that, but someone could misuse it, hopefully that does not happen.”.
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