EU digital COVID certificate launches: What you need to know
It’s been in the works for some time, but on Thursday the EU digital vaccine certificate finally launched, with the aim of streamlining travel within the bloc this summer. Here’s what you need to know about the so-called “vaccine passport."
What is the EU digital COVID certificate?
Essentially, the EU digital COVID certificate is a QR code, displayed on a mobile phone, that demonstrates that the holder has been vaccinated against COVID-19. If you don’t own a smartphone or you don’t want to use it, you can also show the vaccination certificate as a printed QR code on a piece of paper.
The certificate should also show whether someone has recovered from an infection, or has recently tested negative for the disease. This is not currently possible in Germany, but that should change in the coming weeks.
What are the benefits?
All EU member states have promised to waive quarantine and test obligations for holders of the digital vaccine certificate. In some countries, the certificate will facilitate other things, like eating in restaurants, attending events, or going shopping - but each country will decide this for itself.
In Italy, for example, holders of vaccine certificates are now able to visit public events and travel to regions with a higher risk of infection. In Austria, the pass enables you to go to restaurants, bars, hotels and other leisure facilities.
However, countries do retain the right to impose an “emergency brake” provision to impose restrictions and requirements again, even for digital certificate holders, if the infection situation changes. Germany, for instance, has recently classified Portugal as a virus variant area, meaning anyone returning to the federal republic from there has to go into quarantine for 14 days, even if they are fully vaccinated.
What information does the digital certificate contain?
The certificate contains the holder’s name and date of birth, as well as information about their vaccine, such as the date of administration and batch number.
When the certificate is added onto a smartphone, data is sent to the Robert Koch Institute’s server so that an electronic signature can be added, but is then immediately deleted. After that, your personal data is only stored on your smartphone. Two weeks after your second injection (or first injection, for the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine), the app will display the status, “Complete vaccination protection.”
Further functionality should be added in future so that the same status can be displayed for people who have recovered from a coronavirus infection and received one vaccine dose. Germany considers these individuals to be fully vaccinated.
Does it replace Germany’s yellow vaccination booklet?
No. Germany’s beloved yellow vaccination booklet isn’t going anywhere just yet. The government has been explicitly clear that no one is compelled to download the vaccine certificate onto their smartphones. If you prefer, you can still travel with your yellow booklet as proof of your immunisation status, both within Germany and abroad.
However, having the certificate downloaded on your smartphone is not only simpler and more convenient, but also minimises the risk of you losing your paper booklet.
That being said, the Federal Ministry of Health is currently advising anyone heading on their holidays in the near future to also take their paper vaccination certificate with them, in case the digital infrastructure experiences some teething issues. It would also be a useful backup if you should accidentally lose your phone.
Where can I get an EU digital certificate in Germany?
Rather than having one, uniform digital certificate app, the EU has left national authorities in charge of issuing their own certificates, which will be accepted across the bloc thanks to the integration of public health data.
Simply put, this means that the digital vaccine certificate already in use in Germany is the EU digital COVID-19 certificate. If you’ve already got one downloaded on your smartphone - as 32 million people in the federal republic already have - you’re all set!
If you’re yet to receive your second jab, you will probably receive your digital certificate from your vaccination centre when you do. It comes in the form of a printout of a QR code, which you scan into your smartphone using either the RKI’s CovPass app, the federal government’s Corona-Warn-App, or the Luca app.
If your second jab was a while ago, the process of receiving retrospective proof of vaccination varies depending on the federal state. In Bavaria, for instance, you can simply download it on the internet. In North Rhine-Westphalia, it is sent in the post. Anyone who received their jab in a vaccine centre should already have received their QR code by now.
If you were vaccinated by a doctor, you can ask them to issue a code for you. Alternatively, you can attend a pharmacy with a form of ID and your yellow vaccination booklet. You can find a list of participating pharmacies here. The digital certificate is free of charge.
Where is the certificate valid?
The digital certificate will be recognised in all EU countries from July 1, as well as Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. However, the EU has said that there will be a transition period until August 12, during which it may not be possible, for instance, to scan the QR code when checking in at an airport.
Some EU countries, including Ireland, Malta, the Netherlands, Romania, Sweden, Hungary and Cyprus are still having some issues with the digital certificate.
On the Re-open EU website, you can see how far ahead each country is with implementing the digital certificate, and also check your travel plans from country to country. It is worth doing this in advance of travelling, as entry regulations can differ in the details.
Can I still travel even if I haven’t been vaccinated yet?
Even if you haven’t been vaccinated against coronavirus, you should be able to travel freely within Europe. The EU has been explicit about this: “The EU's digital COVID certificate is intended to facilitate the free movement of people within the EU. However, it is not a prerequisite for freedom of movement. It is a fundamental right in the EU.” Many countries will, however, require you to present a negative test before allowing you to enter.