Vaccine passports can save Europe’s summer, but only for the lucky ones

(CNN) – The door to summer is slowly opening in Europe, and for those who want to wander there to take a vacation amid the ongoing Covid restrictions, the key may soon be at hand.

While the borders are expected to remain closed in the coming weeks, the European Union proposes to deploy a digital green certificate, or vaccination passport, which will allow those with the required loads of approved anti-Covid pharmaceuticals. or antibodies to have had the virus, to travel freely. Negative tests could also be used to qualify.

This is a measure eagerly awaited by major European tourist destinations, including Portugal, Spain and Greece, where the lack of visitors over the past year has left gaping holes in national bank balances.

But will it be fair?

As the beleaguered tourism industry welcomes the plan, which the EU is expected to vote on later in March, there are fears that uneven vaccine deployments and supplies across Europe will mean some countries will benefit from more freedoms than others.

Likewise, with some demographics targeted for early vaccination relative to others, some may be forced to stay home, looking with envy at older citizens, many of whom will have received both vaccines by the end of spring, fly away for their time in the sun.

And while the EU’s executive body, the European Commission, sees its new green certificate simply as a document allowing its citizens to cross European borders smoothly, concerns have been expressed that they will also become required for entry to restaurants, bars or other venues and events.

While the newly Brexited UK will not be part of the program, the success of its vaccination program could see special travel deals made with some EU countries that will allow Britons to bypass the need for certification.

EU citizens who are not yet eligible for vaccination – or unable to qualify – could be left out of the return to normalcy that most of us are eager to embrace, unless we do. subject to frequent testing regimes.

Generational inequity

A harbinger of this can already be seen at sea. Some major cruise lines are announcing summer departures that will only be open to passengers who can prove they have received a full assortment of vaccines.

Anger, some commentators say, is inevitable.

“Only those over 50 will be vaccinated by this summer, so there could be protests from younger people,” Kaye McIntosh, former editor of consumer magazine Health Which? and WI Life, reports CNN Travel. “It adds to the sense of generational injustice created by austerity, housing prices and student loans. I wouldn’t blame Gen Z for being angry.”

Norbert Hidi, a 24-year-old student from the Hungarian capital Budapest, is among those who expect to go nowhere.

“To put it bluntly, it’s not fair,” Hidi told CNN Travel. “Most of us won’t have been vaccinated by the summer, which means we can’t travel or maybe go to bars or restaurants. The older generation was vaccinated first. because she’s the most at risk, but that shouldn’t mean they have more rights because of it. “

Brian Young, managing director of U.K.-headquartered G Adventures, a travel agency that offers a range of options including tours for 18-30 year olds, is confident that vaccine passports will help revive the tourism around the world, although some will be missing this year.

“With international travel almost completely on hold for a year now, it is essential that governments work together to find a one-size-fits-all solution to open borders and allow vacationers to resume flying,” Young told CNN Travel.

“The announcement of the vaccine has seen a resurgence of confidence among those over 50 years old and, while the vaccine passport proposals would be a good solution as proof for those who have received the vaccine, it leaves a large part of the travelers, who have not taken or have not yet received the vaccine, uncovered. “

Third wave

Denmark will become the first country in the world to roll out a ‘coronavirus passport’ for overseas travel later this month. The idea of ​​immunity passports has been debated among European countries since the start of the pandemic. But critics warn that such passports could be discriminatory and could affect people’s right to keep their medical data private. CNN’s Nina Dos Santos reports.

Young says the EU’s decision to allow unvaccinated people to qualify for health passports with a negative test for antigens will help, but could still be a barrier for some to travel.

“Deploying cheaper testing options is also essential if the cost is to be borne by the consumer,” he said. “The current cost of PCR testing will deter some travelers, especially if they have to take multiple tests while traveling.”

If approved as planned, the EU digital green certificate will be valid in all EU member states as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. It will use a QR code with a digital signature to protect against tampering. It will be issued by hospitals, testing centers or health authorities, but the data should be verifiable across the EU via a digital gateway.

The EU says certificates will be issued for approved vaccines. People vaccinated before the certificate became available, or outside the EU, should still be eligible. It is hoped that the certificates will also be valid in countries outside the EU.

It sounds like a golden ticket, but in reality many European countries may be a long way from delivering them on a large scale. Covid rates are entering their third wave across the continent, causing new lockdowns in countries like France and Italy.
Ongoing conflicts over vaccine supplies and suspicions about the safety of the AstraZeneca jab – what regulators say unfounded – hampered inoculation rates which were already well below those achieved by pioneering vaccinators such as the UK and Israel.

In Hungary, where the vaccination rate is above the EU average, officials believe the Commission’s time would be better spent buying vaccines for the entire bloc.

“We see the debate on the certificate as a bogus debate because from Brussels nobody is waiting for certificates; from Brussels we are waiting for vaccines,” said Gergely Gulyás, the minister at the head of the Hungarian prime minister’s office, on Thursday. “It would be desirable for Brussels to refocus its activity on this area.

Transparent measures

The certificate plan will need the support of the 27 member states if it is to be adopted next week and introduced in June. While countries like Belgium and Germany fear this could result in discrimination, EU leaders have sought to build confidence.

“We are proposing a common European approach that will lead us on the path to our goal of reopening the EU in a safe, sustainable and predictable way,” said Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety this week.

“The situation with the virus in Europe is still very difficult and confidence in the decisions taken is crucial. It is only through a common approach that we can safely return to full free movement in the EU, on the basis of transparent measures and full mutual trust. “

The World Health Organization, which has also expressed serious concerns about the risk of vaccination passports creating a two-tier society, this week offered its own “smart digital certificate”, which it insisted on insisting. the fact that it was not a travel permit.

“It’s something different from a passport,” WHO Europe director Hans Kluge said on Thursday. “We are not encouraging at this point that getting the vaccine determines whether you can travel internationally or not. It should not be a requirement.”

He said there were ethical, practical and scientific reasons for this.

“There is a global vaccine shortage,” he said. “So that would increase inequality, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s that vulnerable people have been disproportionately affected.”

He said the lack of clarity on the duration of immunity meant vaccination certification was not a guarantee of fitness to travel, as did uncertainties over whether vaccinees can transmit the virus.

These concerns have not prevented some countries from moving forward with their own certification and passport systems.

Winners and losers

Israel’s “Green Pass” digital vaccination certificate is used to reopen venues and events.

ACK GUEZ / AFP via Getty Images

Israel, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, already uses a “green pass” to open restaurants, bars, venues and events. Denmark has offered something similar to tourism officials recently saying it is essential to ensure a “summer of joy.

Meanwhile, some airlines are adopting the certification to ensure passengers are virus-free. Australian carrier Qantas has started testing the CommonPass system that will be needed for overseas travel when the Australian border reopens.

Other airlines are subscribing to a digital pass created by the International Air Transport Association, IATA, which will allow passengers to download a negative Covid test certification to allow smoother passage through airports.

Amid this confusing maze of digital paperwork, it is possible that the power of the European Union will help impose some uniformity and clarity on how global borders can be opened in the near future.

But as health expert McIntosh adds, there are likely to be winners and losers, and there are no guarantees, especially not in the long term.

“The right not to be exposed to a fatal disease trumps the rights of the unvaccinated,” she said. “Maybe that will change if the vaccination ultimately means Covid-19 becomes something more ordinary, like the seasonal flu – although it still kills thousands of people every year.

“But no vaccine is 100% effective, so even people who received the vaccine are still at risk.”

CNN’s James Frater, Sarah Dean and Sharon Braithwaite contributed to this story

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