The European Union’s Digital COVID Certificate, which is aimed at restarting mobility in the 27-country bloc, comes into force today in the midst of a fresh wave of the coronavirus that is threatening to prompt a new closure of borders. What’s more, the air travel sector, one of the potential major beneficiaries of the system, fears that the diversity of verification systems could lead to large lines at airports, or in the worst-case scenario, end up limiting options for travel.
The European Commission has called on all governments to guarantee that anyone who holds the certificate be exempt from restrictions to travel, such as additional coronavirus testing or quarantines. Brussels believes it essential that “clear and timely information” be supplied so that “citizens can be confident when traveling abroad during the summer.”
But the fear of the spread of the delta variant of the virus and doubts about the epidemiological situation of the countries most dependent on tourism – such as Portugal and Spain – has led governments such as Germany’s to warn that it will veto the entry of travelers coming from countries where lax controls are in place. Brussels is hoping that this reluctance and technical problems will be overcome, and that the certificate will become not only a tool for travel from one EU country to another, but that it will also work as a pass for other activities, such as concerts, exhibitions and conferences.
Three in one
The EU Digital COVID Certificate must be available for free to any EU citizen or resident who requests it in order to certify their partial or complete vaccination, the negative result of a coronavirus test or the fact that they have had and overcome Covid-19. The document, which can be issued electronically or in paper format, opens the doors to travel across the EU and the bearer will have exactly the same rights as vaccinated – or recovered – citizens in the country they are visiting.
Where is it valid?
The certificate and the applications that allow for it to be downloaded will be available from today, July 1, in the 27 EU countries with the exception of Ireland, which will not incorporate it until mid-July as a consequence of a cyberattack recently suffered by the country’s health system. The three countries in the European Economic Area – Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein – will also be participating in the system. Switzerland is due to join up, once a deal has been reached on the mutual recognition of the respective certificates.
Who will issue it?
The healthcare authorities in each country will issue the certificate once a person has been vaccinated or indeed when they request it. The certificate will be valid in any EU country thanks to a platform developed by the EC that permits interoperability of all issued documents. Residents of Spain should check with their regional healthcare system as to how exactly they can access the certificate, as the systems differ from territory to territory.
Which vaccines does it include?
The vaccination certificate will be granted to people who have received the vaccines authorized so far by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). These are: BioNTech-Pfizer, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Janssen. If they want to, EU countries will also be able to accept a vaccination certificate for any of the other vaccines authorized for their emergency use by the World Health Organization (WHO).
How old do you need to be?
The certificate will be available for all ages. Children aged between 12 and 15 will be able to receive the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine, according to the EMA. Minors will also be able to obtain the certificate to certify that they have overcome Covid-19 or have received a negative coronavirus test.
What will the certificate do?
The certificate has been developed primarily to facilitate movement between countries. But on Wednesday, the European Commission for Justice Didier Reynders encouraged national authorities to roll its use out to other activities. “We recommend to all the member states to use such a tool not only for the free-movement law […] but also for all the possible national uses, for other purposes: to go to concerts, festivals, theaters, restaurants,” Reynders said.
A voluntary option
The European Commission has insisted that the certificate is not a passport, and that its use is voluntary and will never be obligatory for travel. People who have not been vaccinated will enjoy the same freedom to travel from one country to another, but will be subject to the local restrictions in place such as tests or a quarantine.
The small print
The complications with the system start with the small print. Governments have reserved the right to impose restrictions on travelers from any country when they consider it opportune for reasons of public health. Any possible measures must be communicated to the Commission and the rest of the member states and be duly justified. But different levels of discretion will be difficult to avoid and risk fragmenting the system, in particular, should the more-contagious delta variant discovered in India continue to spread quickly in certain areas, or indeed any other strain. Germany has already warned that it will impose restrictions or even veto the entry of nationals from countries that are unable to contain infections, with Portugal already in its sights.
Diversity of systems
The European air travel sector, which has seen a fall in activity of 54% compared to the last quarter in 2019, before the pandemic hit, was trusting that it could take advantage of the certificate to recover lost activity in July and in particular in August. But Airlines for Europe (A4E), one of the main business associations in the sector, warned on Tuesday that there is a risk that the range of different verification systems could cause a spiral of checks, lines and delays to flights that end up ruining the summer campaign. The association has complained that despite the efforts of the EC to create a common certificate, “there are at least 10 different national concepts and solutions.” It has also warned that this fragmentation and the possibility of double or triple verification of the certificate in a single journey “threatens the success of the restarting of plane journeys this summer and will undermine the free circulation of citizens through the EU.”
Checks on departure
The European Commission has called on member states to avoid the duplication of controls. Brussels considered it to be sufficient for the validity of the certificate to be checked in the country of departure, meaning that checks on arrival would be redundant. The EC has also recommended that, as far as possible, that verification of the certificate be carried out before passengers arrive at the airport to avoid long lines and crowds that would breach social-distancing guidelines. The Commission has also called for the controls to be sporadic and not systematic. The A4E association has pointed to the fact that the time that checks take has already risen 500%, to an average of 12 minutes per passenger.
US gymnast Simone Biles received immense support from Americans this week after announcing she would not be competing in the Team USA final, nor the women’s individual all-around gymnastics final, due to personal mental health concerns. At the same time, the 24-year-old has received backlash from many individuals who viewed her pull-out as weak.
Aaron Reitz, deputy attorney general for Texas, took to Twitter on Wednesday evening to issue an apology to Biles, and recant a statement in which he panned the record-setting US gymnast as a “national embarrassment.”
“In a moment of frustration and disappointment, I opined on subjects for which I am not adequately versed. That was an error. I can’t imagine what Simone Biles has gone through,” Reitz claimed. “Simone Biles is a true patriot and one of the greatest gymnasts of our time.”
“I apologize to her, and wish her well,” the deputy AG concluded, emphasizing that his “personal social media comments” do not represent the views of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, nor the Office of the Attorney General.
Reitz’s since-deleted tweet against Biles, who was born in Texas and still resides in the Lone Star State, quoted another post that applauded the 1996 Olympic performance of Team USA gymnast Kerri Strug. Strug, one of the US’ “Magnificent Seven,” severely injured her ankle during the first half of the vault competition, but refused to bow out of the event and ultimately led her team to win the US’ first gold medal in women’s gymnastics.
“Contrast this with our selfish, childish national embarrassment, Simone Biles,” Reitz said in his quote tweet.
Aaron Reitz is the deputy attorney general for legal strategy under AG @KenPaxtonTX.
This tweet, in which he calls fellow Texan Simone Biles a “national embarrassment,” came outside of work hours but he often tweets hot takes between 9a-5p.
The deputy AG’s attempt at using Strug’s story to chastise Biles fell flat, as the two-time Olympian threw her support behind the 24-year-old on Tuesday.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that Biles is no stranger to performing with adversity. When the US Women’s Gymnastics team took home gold at the 2018 World Championships in Qatar, Biles dominated in nearly every competition, despite intense stomach pains from what was later confirmed to be a kidney stone.
Despite her pull-outs this year, Biles has continued to root for her fellow Team USA gymnasts. She also expressed in a Wednesday social media post that “the outpouring [of] love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before.”
With all the fanfare Covid would allow, the global education summit opened in London this week. Ahead of the meeting, the minister for European neighbourhood and the Americas was on rousing form. “Educating girls is a gamechanger,” Wendy Morton said, going on to describe what a plan would look like to do just that.
The UK, co-hosting the summit with Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, plans to raise funds for the Global Partnership for Education, from governments and donors. The UK government has promised £430m over the next five years.
There followed a number of reasons why the issue is so important, all of them absolutely sound: on any given indicator, from GDP to infant health and beyond, a nation stands or falls by how well, for how long, and how inclusively it educates its girls.
These are all the right words, even in the right order, yet they land completely at odds with the government’s behaviour.
Lis Wallace, head of advocacy at the One campaign, is most immediately concerned with these pledges being fully funded. There are two core targets: one is to increase girls’ access to education, the other is to boost the key milestone for all children – that they’re able to read and understand a simple story by the age of 10.
The past 18 months have been devastating for education, particularly in countries where it’s harder to access to online learning. About 1.6 billion children are out of school across the world. There’s a target to raise $5bn (£3.6bn), “which is a drop in the ocean of what is required to meet the global learning crisis”, Wallace says. It looks as though this summit will raise no more than $4bn, which is nothing less than a “failure of statecraft”, as Wallace explains: “It’s challenging when the host government is stepping back and making aid cuts for it then to ask other countries to step up.”
This is a depressing echo of the G7’s failure earlier this year; commitments to share vaccine doses with low-income countries came too little, too late, with devastating results, and it’s hard to avoid the question of whether that outcome would have been different if the host nation had role modelled some generosity.
Furthermore, there’s some confused causality in the minister’s assertion that staying in school protects girls from “forced child marriage, gender-based violence and early pregnancy”. The exact inverse is true: it is largely teenage pregnancy that forces girls out of school in the first place, and to try to use education in lieu of sexual health and reproductive provision is illogical.
Esi Asare Prah, who is a youth and advocacy officer in Ghana for MSI Reproductive Choices, describes a situation in which 5,000 to 7,000 girls drop out of school each year after becoming pregnant – last year, 2,000 of them were between 10 and 14. Across sub-Saharan Africa, MSI estimates that up to 4 million girls drop out or are excluded from school every year due to pregnancy.
“These girls are most likely to be on the street, doing menial jobs; their children will not make it into higher education. It creates a cycle of poverty and a cycle of slums. For me, the foundation of it is that you can’t seek to invest in education for girls in sub-Saharan Africa and cut down funding for sexual and reproductive health. If you treat development issues as isolated, you will have the same issues of 50 years ago chasing you into the future.”
Here, the recent cuts to the aid budget make a mockery of these pledges on education: UK funding to the UN Population Fund recently went down by 85%.
There is inspiration to take from this summit, nevertheless; President Kenyatta has been leading the charge not only on education but also on the climate crisis, and there is a solidarity and sense of purpose between poorer nations that may yet inspire greater generosity from donors. Whatever it achieves, though, it will be despite its UK host not because of them.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken affirmed his country’s support to conduct additional investigations into the origins of the Covid-19 after meeting with the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Wednesday, Reuters reported. “He stressed the need for the next phase to be timely, evidence-based, transparent, expert-led, and free from interference,” a US state department spokesperson said in a statement.