Governments of the 27 EU member countries have now agreed on the technical standards for vaccine passports. The Digital Green Certificate offers a solution to ensure that EU citizens benefit from a harmonised digital tool to support free movement in the EU. Key objectives are to offer an easy to use, non-discriminatory and secure tool that fully respects data protection.
The European Commission’s proposal will allow safe free movement inside the EU. The certificate will be proof that a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19, received a negative test result or recovered from COVID-19.
The Commission will build a gateway to ensure all certificates can be verified across the EU, and support EU countries in the technical implementation of certificates.
Individual countries remain responsible for deciding which public health restrictions can be waived for travellers, but they will have to apply such waivers in the same way to travellers holding a Digital Green Certificate.
The Commission has said that the certificate will not be a pre-condition to free movement and it will not discriminate in any way. A common EU-approach will however help to gradually restore free movement within the EU and avoid fragmentation.
Key elements of the regulation proposed by the Commission include:
- The Digital Green Certificate will cover three types of certificates: vaccination certificates, test certificates (NAAT/RT-PCR test or a rapid antigen test), and certificates for persons who have recovered from COVID-19.
- The certificates will be issued in digital form or on paper. Both will have a QR code that contains necessary key information as well as a digital signature to make sure the certificate is authentic.
- The Commission will build a gateway and support countries to develop software that authorities can use to verify all certificate signatures across the EU.
- No personal data of the certificate holders passes through the gateway, or is retained by the verifying country.
- The certificates will be available free of charge and in the official language or languages of the issuing country and English.
All people, vaccinated and non-vaccinated, should benefit from a Digital Green Certificate when travelling in the EU. To prevent discrimination against individuals who are not vaccinated, the Commission proposes to create not only an interoperable vaccination certificate, but also COVID-19 test certificates and certificates for persons who have recovered from COVID-19.
Where countries accept proof of vaccination to waive certain public health restrictions such as testing or quarantine, they will be required to accept, under the same conditions, vaccination certificates issued under the Digital Green Certificate system. This obligation is limited to vaccines that have received EU-wide marketing authorisation, but countries can decide to accept other vaccines in addition.
If a country continues to require holders of a Digital Green Certificate to quarantine or test, it must notify the Commission and all other EU countries and explain the reasons for such measures.
The certificates will include a limited set of information such as name, date of birth, date of issuance, relevant information about vaccine/test/recovery and a unique identifier of the certificate. This data can be checked only to confirm and verify the authenticity and validity of certificates. Each issuing body (e.g. a hospital, a test centre, a health authority) has its own digital signature key. All of these are stored in a secure database in each country.
The certificate will be valid in all EU Member States and open for Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway as well as Switzerland. The UK is not involved. The certificate should be issued to EU citizens and their family members, regardless of their nationality. It should also be issued to non-EU nationals who reside in the EU and to visitors who have the right to travel to other countries.
The Commission states that the Digital Green Certificate system is a temporary measure. It will be suspended once the World Health Organization declares the end of the COVID-19 international health emergency.
The certificates will be free of charge. To be ready before the summer, this proposal needs a swift adoption by the European Parliament and the Council. In parallel, EU countries must implement the trust framework and technical standards, agreed in the eHealth network, to ensure timely implementation of the certificate, their interoperability and full compliance with personal data protection. The aim is to have the technical work and the proposal completed in the coming months.
The Digital Green Certificate will also be open to initiatives being developed globally.