What is the EU Digital COVID Certification?

What is the EU Digital COVID Certification?

The EU Digital COVID Certificate (EU DCC) has now been in operation across Europe for a few months and passenger numbers on flights have seen a significant increase since its introduction. The EU DCC (also known as the green pass or digital green certificate) is valid for all 26 European Union member countries as well as some other non-EU states and is available upon application to all EU citizens and residents who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or recovered from the disease.

Although quarantine or self-isolation requirements for visitors have been relaxed or discontinued in many European countries, they are still mandatory in some and there is the possibility that such measures could yet again be put into effect should coronavirus case numbers rise or a new variant of the virus emerge.

EU DCC holders benefit from being largely exempted from these restrictions and can move more freely throughout Europe as they are deemed to be low risk of being infected or infecting others. In some countries at present there is also a requirement for both nationals and foreigners to be in possession of a valid EU Digital COVID Certificate in order to access bars, restaurants, theatres, museums and other public buildings and places.

EU DCC Background and Purpose

The EU DCC was intended to be a temporary measure put in place in order to ensure, as much as possible, that visitors to a European destination were clear of coronavirus. Originally set to expire at the end of June 2022, the EU DCC scheme may be extended for another full year until June 2023, according to a recent European Commission proposal. The certificate is basically official proof that the holder has either:

  • Been fully vaccinated against COVID-19
  • Received a recent negative test, or
  • Recovered from coronavirus

During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, it was practically impossible to fly or take a boat anywhere to, from and within the European zone and many countries simply refused entry to non-nationals. This was an unprecedented disaster for tourism and trade and restoring transcontinental travel quickly became an economic necessity.

The EU DCC was seen as the best and safest way to reopen land, sea and air connections in Europe as it:

  • Is accessible to all border security authorities
  • Records essential personal information and data
  • Shows proof of vaccination
  • Details results of PCR and antigen tests
  • Demonstrates recovery from infection

Because of the information supplied, countries relaxed the restrictions on incoming visitors possessing a COVID Digital Certificate and air and sea carriers were able to increase passenger numbers as well as scheduled services.

How the System Works

All issuers of a EU DCC (usually a hospital or medical centre) are assigned a digital signature key and this is stored on secure databases in each of the countries where the certificate is accepted. Every certificate issued has its own unique QR (Quick Response) Code which can be scanned by the relevant authorities when leaving or entering a country. The scan will verify the holder's identity and coronavirus status but cannot access the person's personal details.
In order for the system to work smoothly and efficiently it was necessary to develop the EU Gateway: the technological system that regulates the use and verification of each EU DCC. This was quickly developed and came into operation on the 1st of June 2021 and was officially implemented across the European zone a month later.

Europe and Beyond

All 26 European Union member countries are linked to the EU Gateway and may require non-nationals to be in possession of a Digital COVID Certificate before entering their territory. The full list of EU member states is as follows:

  • Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.

In addition four, non-EU countries but members of EFTA (European Free Trade Association) have also adopted the EU Digital Covid Certificate system. These are:

  • Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

The EU DCC system is primarily for EU citizens who wish to travel with as few restrictions as possible within the greater European area but other nations across the globe have also seen its benefits and signed up to the scheme.

There are a total of 29 countries that are neither members of the European Union or the European Free Trade Association who accept the European certificate for entry purposes:

  • Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Cape Verde, El Salvador, Faroe Islands, Georgia, Israel, Lebanon, Moldova, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Panama, San Marino, Serbia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Tunisia, Togo, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Uruguay, The Vatican.

Conversely, COVID certificates issued by these countries are accepted by EU authorities.

EU DCC For Third-Country Nationals

Third-country nationals are citizens of countries outside the European Union. As is the case for all third-country nationals not resident in Europe, it may be possible to receive a EU DCC if proof of receiving an authorised vaccine can be provided but this courtesy does not extend to all non-EU citizens all of the time. Third-country nationals who reside in Europe and have been vaccinated in their host country, however, have no such problem as they are automatically entitled to a certificate.

EU Digital COVID Certificate for British Citizens

As Britain has now left the EU, British citizens fall into the third-country category and travelling to Europe is not as simple an undertaking as it was before Brexit. The European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) is set to come into effect later in 2023 whereupon it will be necessary for British visitors to Europe to hold an ETIAS approved passport. Currently, a valid British passport still suffices but intending travellers may also need a COVID Certificate before embarking on any European journey.

The good news is that the NHS COVID Pass, issued by the United Kingdom's National Health Service, is recognised by, and acceptable to, European authorities. However, it may still be necessary for British travellers to undergo a COVID test in addition to showing proof of vaccination depending on the intended destination.

Benefits of the EU DCC

The purpose of introducing the Digital COVID Certificate was primarily to reduce the spread of the coronavirus in Europe by basically screening travellers. In doing so it was also envisaged that the European economy would benefit with the increase in numbers of visitors to Europe boosting trade, business and tourism.

In ascertaining each individual's status regarding vaccination, recovery and test results it has been possible to only permit those who are deemed to be a low risk of spreading the disease to travel. In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, it was virtually impossible to travel to, from or within Europe for leisure or business purposes and only “essential travel” was allowed. In fact, many countries elected to basically seal their borders to all foreigners and airports and shipping ports were shut down.

This situation was totally unsatisfactory as Europe lost billions of euros due to lost business and a huge drop in tourism. The solution was the EU Digital COVID Certificate which has been, to a large extent, very successful. With this system in place there have been several, almost immediate, benefits:

  • EU citizens and visiting foreigners can travel with more safety and peace of mind.
  • Transport and transit business can operate at nearly normal levels.
  • Money is now circulating more freely around the European Union.
  • Businesses, both large and small, have experienced a welcome upturn in income.

Although not yet at pre-COVID levels, the numbers of passengers on flights and ferries across Europe are steadily increasing and soon expected to approach “near normal” as people adapt to the current situation across the globe.

EU DCC: The Basics

The EU Digital COVID Certificate is available to all EU citizens as well as foreign nationals who are resident in one of the participating countries. It is provided, free of charge, to people who have been fully vaccinated against coronavirus and it is available in both digital and paper format. Every certificate has a unique QR code which can be scanned by the responsible agencies and authorities across Europe as well as all of the countries that have signed up to the scheme. Currently, a EU DCC is valid for a period of nine months (270 days) following the last date of vaccination.

Many travel operators, and particularly airlines, now demand that all intending passengers be in possession of a EU DCC before travel and it is currently extremely difficult to travel anywhere in Europe without one. Acquiring a EU DCC may not be possible for many travellers but the national versions, for example the NHS COVID Pass, may suffice and should be an acceptable substitute in any of the countries participating in the EU DCC programme including those who are not members of the European Union.

Since its introduction, the EU DCC has proven to be very effective in containing and slowing the spread of COVID-19 and helping prevent major outbreaks. For many European Union member countries a EU DCC is mandatory for incoming visitors and this situation looks set to continue until June 2023. It should be noted, however, that possession of a EU Digital COVID Certificate does not guarantee exemption from any test or quarantine requirements as the conditions of entry for incoming visitors is a matter for each individual country and entry requirements should always be checked before travel.

Information Contained on the EU Digital COVID Certificate

As people start to travel once more after more than a year of not being able to do so, there is a huge demand for COVID Certificates but many people have concerns about what personal information and details may be contained therein. There is no need for concern as only the most basic information is included and most of these details can easily be ascertained from a passport. The only information contained is:

  • Name
  • Date of Birth
  • Date of Issue (Important as certificates are only valid for 270 days)
  • Details of COVID vaccination, recovery or recent tests
  • Unique identification number

As can be seen, the information supplied is merely to identify the holder when compared to passport details and to detail any history of infection from COVID-19 and any vaccinations or tests undertaken. The COVID details cover whether the holder has:

  • Been fully vaccinated against COVID-19
  • Received a booster vaccination
  • Recovered from the virus in the preceding six months (or thereabouts)
  • Undertaken a recent COVID-19 test with a negative result
  • There are five types of EU DCC and which one an applicant receives will depend on the individual's recent COVID history.

The five variations are:

  1. EU DCC based on vaccination for fully vaccinated people.
  2. EU DCC based on booster vaccine for people who are both fully vaccinated and have received a booster shot.
  3. EU DCC based on recovery for those who had a positive COVID-19 test in the preceding six months.
  4. EU DCC based on a negative RT-PCR test undertaken a maximum of 72 hours before travel.
  5. EU DCC based on negative antigen test taken at a recognised testing centre no more than 48 hours before travel.

A negative antigen test may not be accepted in all countries and a check should be made regarding exact conditions for entry in the relative destination country or countries. It is important when receiving a vaccine, booster shot or taking a PCR or antigen test to give the name exactly as it appears on the passport in order to avoid any confusion while travelling.

Conclusion

The fight against COVID-19 continues in the EU. The digital COVID Certification is but one tool used by the bloc to ensure travellers are fully vaccinated against the virus. It is unlikely the certification will be extended again in 2023, however, given the dynamics around pandemics, travellers should not be surprised if the requirements are in still in place for several years.