COVID-19 passports are coming! Digital Green Certificates, as the Commission still insists on calling them, are supported by an overwhelming majority in the European Parliament. So, the 2021 summer travel season is set to begin safe and Covid-19-free, right? Sadly, in the EU, nothing is that easy and, as of now, there are far more questions than answers. The Commission is currently working out the details, and the Council hopes the green passports will be in operation by June 21st.
Many details still need to be worked out. For example, what type of tests will be accepted? Who will issue the certificates? If non-EU nationals are included in the schemes, do only vaccines authorised by European authorities qualify? In principle, however, Covid-19 passports will allow people to travel freely between all EU member states if they have recovered from Covid-19, recently tested negative, or received a vaccine.
Is this a roundabout way to force people to get vaccinated? Many people are hesitant to get vaccinated for different reasons, including a general distrust of their government. In order not to make vaccination effectively compulsory and not to discriminate against those who want to be vaccinated but haven’t had the opportunity, a negative Covid-19 test will grant the same freedoms as proof of vaccination. Either way, lawmakers are open in their intent that the travel certificates should act as an incentive for EU residents to get inoculated.
Will the travel certificates be effective? Theoretically, a person can get infected with Covid-19 just days before or after their negative test result. A certificate, green-lighting travel without quarantine may send out the wrong signal and lead to risky behaviour. Before we know it, we may introduce another wave of infections as a significant share of the population is yet to be fully vaccinated.
Are they even necessary? Vaccinations must be our priority. There will always be the residual risks of false-negatives or vaccinated individuals still spreading the virus. Eighteen months into the pandemic, we are finding our way with new systems to help ease restrictions but, for many, it may feel as if we are effectively pro-longing lockdown. The EU promises to end the green passport scheme once the WHO officially declares the pandemic to be over. Perhaps we need to learn to live with Covid-19. If so, can we learn to live with green travel certificates over the long-term?