How official digital health certificates work and will help us travel

Since the end of March 2020, many of us have been stuck in and out of nation/statewide lockdowns – unable to travel internationally for fear of spreading coronavirus overseas. Summer 2021 is set to be different due to the wide rollout of national vaccine programmes that have immunised large swathes of country populations against the virus. As such, many people are finally starting to book holidays that involve international travel – knowing that they can finally head to a sunny beach, without putting their health at risk.

In places like Europe, freedom of movement between countries is fundamental right afforded to citizens. In an effort to keep boarders between European countries open, up until now many governments had put in place a traffic light system indicating the rate of infection in neighboring countries. The extent to which you were allowed to travel, or had to quarantine on your return, depended on whether you wanted to visit a red, amber, or green country. The introduction of free digital health certificates will support this system, allowing users to show their vaccination, test and/or recovery status from COVID-19 for each colour band.

What new health certificates are available?

In the EU an EU Digital COVID Certificate (EUDCC), or Digital Green Pass as it is sometimes referred to as, will allow for travel restrictions to lift across all 27 member states of Europe – and will be available for some specific non-EU countries, too. While some European countries have already started issuing these certificates to their citizens, the legislation to support these health passes will officially come into force on July 1st, 2021.

EEA countries including Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland all the have the option to implement the EUDCC as their national health pass. However, both Norway and Switzerland have already pledged to create their own “vaccine passports” that will be compatible with the EU version. This means if you’re a citizen of either of these countries you’ll use the national version to travel, created by the Norwegian or Swiss Government. However, this will work for travel across the EU.

The UK is also an exception to the EUDCC with the country currently undergoing negotiations to carve out an agreement with how its national health certificate could be compatible for travel within the EU. The UK has already rolled out its own version of a vaccine certificate through its National Health Service app. This will be used for entry into sporting events like The UEFA European Football Championship games taking place at Wembley.

In the US some states have also started introducing vaccine passports. For example, New York state has an app called Excelsior Pass, which shows your vaccination proof or the results of a negative COVID-19 test (you must also show a photo ID). However, the app is not in widespread use and there is no nationwide digital certificate planned as of June 2021. 

What does the certificate/passport say?

In the majority of cases, the purpose of the mobile app is to show if a person has been fully or partially vaccinated, what date those vaccinations took place, and what vaccine a person was given. As each country has only officially approved a certain number of vaccines, if you’d had one of the non-approved versions you might be asked to do further tests to prove you are COVID-19 free before entering a country.

However, with some apps you will also be able to put in information like when you had COVID-19, when you last took a PCR test, and if it’s been confirmed you still have antibodies. This will help boarder officials determine what period of self-isolation a person needs to undergo if they have not been vaccinated but still wish to travel from one destination to the next.

How does it work on my mobile?

Despite its name, the vaccine passport (or vaccine certificate) is unlikely to be similar to the way vaccine certificates have been given out in the past i.e. a little paper booklet you present to immigration officials when you cross an international border.

Instead, due to the scale of the pandemic, the easiest, yet hardest to falsify type of document to issue in order to get as people moving again is a mobile app with a scannable barcode that shows your vaccination status.

Once you’ve inputted your health information and it has been verified by an issuing body such as a hospital, each user will receive a unique QR code to be stored in a digital wallet or app on your mobile.

This information will comprise a digital signature for the health status related to your identity and will be stored in a secure database in each country. This will also make the certificates extremely hard for fraudsters to fake.

Will you be using a vaccine passport or health pass on your next trip? Let us know in the comments section or by tweeting us @techtroublesho1 .

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