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Travel to Spain: The EU Digital Covid Certificate: Who will be issuing them and what are they for? | Society

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A passenger checks in at Madrid's Barajas Airport in March 2021.
A passenger checks in at Madrid’s Barajas Airport in March 2021.Alberto Ortega / Europa Press

From July 1, the European Union is going to put into use a “coronavirus passport” that will allow its citizens to travel across the 27-country bloc without the need for quarantines – assuming the epidemiological situation does not take a new turn for the worse. The “EU Digital Covid Certificate,” as the scheme is known, is seeking to standardize the documents issued by each country so that they can be recognized by each member.

What is the passport for?

The EU Digital Covid Certificate aims to guarantee the use of national certificates across the union that prove that the holder has been vaccinated against Covid-19, has had a negative PCR or antigen test for the virus, or has recovered from the illness thus enjoying a period of immunity from reinfection.

Can countries use the passport for other purposes?

This is within their powers. For example, some countries want this document not just to be used for the free circulation of travelers across the EU, but also for social events. Austria wants to use it for access to hotels, restaurants and cultural activities.

Who will issue these certificates?

The member states will decide this. In the case of Spain, the regions – which are in charge of their own healthcare systems as well as the overall control of the pandemic in their territories – can be assigned this task. The Health Ministry will place the technical means necessary at their disposal so that they can consult the central vaccination register.

What format will they be available in?

Citizens can choose between paper, digital or both.

Why is this being done?

After a number of EU countries announced that they would create such certificates, Brussels decided that it should guarantee a model that will allow for the recovery of full movement within the EU. The bloc is also seeking to put an end to fake PCR test and vaccine certificates, by creating a homogenized system where the data can be verified.

What data should be included?

The data included should facilitate cross-EU functionality – i.e. so that a country can accept a document that has been issued by another EU member. In particular, the certificate should include a barcode or QR code that allows for the verification of the authenticity and validity of the document, among others. The certificate will have to be in the official languages of the issuing country and in English. What’s more, another document will contain the details of the Covid-19 vaccine the holder has received, the result of a PCR test or information that guarantees that the bearer has overcome the virus should they have contracted it previously.

Why have these three scenarios been chosen?

The Commission believes that scientific literature has by now consistently concluded that the Covid-19 vaccines contribute to breaking the chain of transmission an that those who have had Covid-19 in the last six months have a reduced risk of infecting others.

How can you prove that you have had Covid-19?

The document must include the date of the first positive PCR test. That certificate is only valid for 180 days.

Do I have to pay for the document?

No, the certificate is free. To avoid fraud, a fee may be charged should the holder repeatedly lose the document.

When does it come into force?

On July 1. For countries that are not ready in time, an introductory period is being considered. In Spain, the certificate will come into force ahead of that date – in fact it may start as early as today with a pilot program, coinciding with the reopening of Spanish borders to global visitors who have been vaccinated.

Does this mean that being vaccinated is obligatory for travel?

No. In fact, the passport cannot be a precondition for travel.

What advantages will I have if I have the Spanish certificate?

The Spanish Covid certificate will guarantee that the bearer the same rights as local citizens when in another EU country. For example, if an Austrian restaurant only permits patrons with the certificate, the Spanish document will be equally valid.

Which vaccines are allowed?

The EU will accept all of those authorized by the European Medicines Agency (EMA): Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Janssen. However, a country will also be able to accept certificates expedited for anyone who has received a vaccine validated by an EU member state, one that has temporary authorization or whose use has been approved for emergency reasons by the World Health Organization (WHO). The EU regulation only states that there can be no exceptions: if one state accepts that the residents of another member (or a third country) can travel with vaccines that have not been approved by the EMA they should extend this possibility to the rest of the members of the 27-country bloc.

Are measures such as quarantines ending?

This is the aim of the certificate, but each country reserves the right to impose new restrictions if they consider that the epidemiological conditions require such measures. In this case, they must be communicated with 48 hours notice, if possible, to the rest of the EU member states.

How long will the regulation in force?

So far, for 12 months. The aim of the European institutions is to lift all of the restrictions on freedom of movement when the epidemiological conditions allow. The European Commission will have to present a report four months after having started to apply the regulation and three months before this one-year period comes to an end.

English version by Simon Hunter.



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Irish Times poll lays bare pandemic’s impact on political landscape

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Sinn Féin is on top again, with its highest-ever rating in an Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll of support for the parties. Our latest such poll shows Sinn Féin on 31 per cent (up three points), ahead of Fine Gael, which has slipped three points to 27 per cent.

Fianna Fáil remains some way adrift of Sinn Féin and Fine Gael, although it has closed the gap considerably in this June poll, jumping six points to 20 per cent. The Green Party (on 6 per cent) and Labour (on 3 per cent) are unchanged. Independents and smaller parties combined attract 13 per cent of the vote (down six points). Within this bloc are People Before Profit/Solidarity (on 2 per cent) and Social Democrats (on 2 per cent).

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Delta variant: Is Denmark heading for another Covid surge as seen in the UK?

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Cases involving the highly contagious Delta coronavirus variant are cropping up in Denmark with growing frequency, with at least five pupils testing positive at Grønnevang School in Hillerød near Copenhagen on Monday, and a nearby kindergarten also closed after one of the children’s parents tested positive. 

The Hillerød outbreak comes after a similar school cluster in Risskov near Aarhus, which saw one school class and one kindergarten temporarily sent home after two cases were identified. 

The variant, which was first identified in India, now makes up to 90 percent of cases in the UK, forcing the country to delay the so-called “England’s Freedom Day” on June 21st, keeping restrictions in place for another four weeks? 

So, is there a risk of a UK-style outbreak? 

Tyra Grove Krause, acting academic director at the Statens Serum Institute on Tuesday said it was crucial that Denmark health authorities and local municipalities put as much effort as possible into containing any outbreaks. 

“This is a variant that we are concerned about and that we really want to keep it down for as long as we can,” she said. “This is because, according to English authorities, it is up to 50 percent more contagious and possibly more serious than other variants.” 

In a statement last week, her agency said the delta variant was “worrying”. 

The Danish Patient Safety Authority on Tuesday called for all residents in the areas surrounding the schools and kindergarten in Hillerød to get tested, and said that the authorities were increasing test capacity in the area, and also putting out “test ambassadors” on the streets.  

So how is it going in Denmark right now? 

Pretty well.

Despite the lifting of most restrictions, the number of cases registered daily remains low, even if the 353 reported on Wednesday is above the recent trend of under 200 cases a day, the share of positive tests is also slightly up at 0.37 percent. 

Just 93 people are now being treated in hospital for coronavirus, the lowest since September 23rd last year.

And how’s it going in the UK? 

Not so good, but not terrible either. Overall case numberS remain low, but they are starting to climb again despite the UK’s impressive vaccination rate.

The worry is the Delta variant – first discovered in India – which now makes up 90 percent of new cases in the UK and which experts agree is around 40 percent more transmissible than other variants.

England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Witty told a press conference on Monday that cases are rising across the country.

It is concerns over this variant that has lead the British government to delay the latest phase of lockdown easing – initially scheduled for June 21st – for another four weeks.

So will Denmark follow the UK’s trend? 

Probably. Christian Wejse, an epidemiologist at Aarhus University, told The Local that he believes it is inevitable that the Delta variant will eventually become dominant in Denmark too. 

“If it’s true that delta variant is 50 percent or 70 percent more contagious than the B117 (Alpha or UK variant), then I think, in the long run, we’ll see that it takes over because that’s what more contagious viruses do.,” he said. “I think that’s also what the health authorities assume it’s going to happen.” 

How much of a problem would that be? 

Not necessarily too much of a problem, according to Wejse.

For a start, he predicts that the end of the school term and the good summer weather should stop the virus spreading too rapidly for the next two months or so, meaning it will take longer to take over than the British variant did. 

B117 came at a time where the epidemic was rolling in Denmark at a very high level, back in December and January. Now the epidemic is growing much, much slower. That means it’s probably going to take more time,” he said. 

And by the time it does take over, in September perhaps, vaccination levels should be high enough to blunt its impact. 

“I seriously think and hope that, that when we get to the next fall, we’ll be in a different situation. There will be small outbreaks, but not really any big time spread, like we had last fall.” 

“At least with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, there’s data indicating the difference in terms of protection [from the delta variant] is quite small. So, there will be very good protective effects of the vaccines, so I’m certainly confident that it will be much less of a problem when we have a high vaccination coverage, which I assume we will have when we get into September.” 



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Art restoration in Spain: Spain’s latest ‘Ecce Homo’: how a botched restoration made global headlines | Culture

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Several days ago, the Spanish painter Antonio Capel was chatting with the owners of Vivaldi, a florist’s shop in the northern city of Palencia, when they remarked that something was amiss with the façade of a historic building that now houses a branch of the Unicaja bank. Capel was surprised so they suggested he take a look at what was once the delicate face of a shepherdess.

The artist went up to his studio and, using his camera’s zoom, saw that the familiar features were now nothing short of an eyesore. The statue’s eyes were in the wrong place and her nose and mouth had been clumsily crafted. As Capel jokes, whoever was responsible for the restoration was no fine artist – an observation backed by the Spanish Association of Conservators and Restorer’s rapid clarification that it was not a professional job. The botched restoration has already drawn comparisons to the infamous Ecce Homo painting which was disfigured beyond recognition by an amateur artist in Borja in 2012.

The notorious ‘Ecce Homo’ restoration.
The notorious ‘Ecce Homo’ restoration.

The florists in Palencia, who preferred to remain anonymous, recall that heavy rains several years back caused a fall of debris from the building, which was inaugurated in 1923. They later realized that the face of the shepherdess was missing. “The strange thing is that no one noticed” how badly it had been restored, they say.

Capal, meanwhile, says it is beyond his comprehension that such slapdash workmanship should be allowed on such a beautiful building, which is located in the heart of the city on Mayor street. In his opinion, the workers simply used a tracing technique to fashion the face out of plaster in the hope that it would be too high up for anyone to notice.

Unicaja denies any responsibility for the sloppy result. Spokespeople from the bank insist that they only own the premises of the branch office and the second floor. Years ago, Caja Duero, which later became part of Unicaja, owned the entire building. However, they sold the upper floors during the takeover to private homeowners. The spokespeople maintain that the building’s administrator informed the homeowners in 2017 that pieces from the façade had fallen off, including the face of the shepherdess. Palencia City Council confirms that they called on the owners to repair the damage that could pose a threat to public safety. They explain the building is under “structural, not integral protection,” meaning that any restoration work must protect the structure of the building, but no special consideration needs to be given to its exterior decorations.

Unicaja’s staff laugh when asked about the ham-handed job. Like other botched restorations in Spain, including the cartoonish facelift of a 16th-century sculpture of Saint George in Navarre, the changes went unnoticed until someone with a keen eye spotted them. Even the journalists at the Cadena Ser radio network, which has its newsroom in the building, admit to being oblivious.

But now Spain’s latest Ecce Homo is making international headlines, with even with the British newspaper, The Guardian, flagging up the statue’s perceived resemblance to the incumbent president of the United States, Donald Trump.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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