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Network News • 14-05-2021

Wanted – a Covid passport to travel

Author: George Mangion
Published on The Malta Business Weekly on 14 May 2021

The question on everybody’s lips is: can we freely travel once herd immunity is reached? Experts tell us that it is not yet clear whether vaccinated people can still transmit the virus to others. This week, the local health authorities said it is discussing with the EU to introduce so-called digital green certificates that will be recognised across all member states.

It has set itself a June target for doing so. Unlike the certificate issued by the Maltese authorities that will only include details on whether a person has been vaccinated, the EU certificate would also include information on tests and previous Covid-19 infections.

On the subject of a vaccine passport, there are some countries that agree that this could help activate mass travel but countries such as France and Belgium, have also expressed concern that easing travel only for inoculated people would be unfair. The dichotomy is, are we moving forward to liberate travel for the masses but in certain countries they continue to limit those who can attain easy access to vaccines. Quoting Ms von der Leyen on the subject of facilitating mobility she said the digital green pass “should facilitate European’ lives”.

The noble aim is to gradually enable travellers to move safely in the European Union or abroad. Initially, the plan is for EU citizens and residents in the bloc to be able to use the certificate to avoid quarantine, testing and other obstacles to intra-EU travel that have sprung up since the start of the pandemic. Member states, however, want to retain the option of those measures if they deem them necessary, pointing out that public health issues are their responsibility, not Brussels. Later on, the EU intends to accept certificates issued by non-EU countries for travel by their citizens.

Talks are already going in that direction with the United States but, so far, not with former EU member Britain. A certificate trial is to be conducted in May before the initiative is later on launched across all EU countries. Safeguards are to be in place against forgery and to uphold data protection.

In particular, one can quote Spain’s tourism minister saying as a country Spain wishes that other countries positively consider a “green corridor” for vaccinated tourists in case there is no EU agreement on vaccination passports. In the UK, the official spokesman said that they are looking at the issue of vaccine passports.

The pressure is mounting on various governments currently facing redundancies and the exorbitant cost of furlough workers particularly connected with the aviation and hotel sectors. Heathrow airport is introducing a levy styled Airport Cost Recovery Charge, due to be imposed to recoup the cost of operating and maintaining the Covid-19 safety infrastructure.

The reality of losses from tourism suffered by countries such as Cyprus, Malta, Spain and Greece is worrying since these countries had to resort to massive debt mountains to cope with the drop in revenue.

Last week, Denmark announced new steps in its Covid strategy to reopen society, with the spread of the virus deemed under control and its use of a “corona pass” certificate. Cinemas and theatres had already been allowed to reopen and gyms and fitness centres have now been added to the list. Bars, cafes and restaurants, which have already reopened, will no longer require reservations.

This comes with a proviso that like restaurants and hairdressers, all patrons in Denmark must present a “corona pass” certificate confirming they have either tested negative in the past 72 hours, been vaccinated or recently recovered from Covid-19. It is an interesting fact, that where it concerns European Football Championships in Denmark, the government will allow 16,000 fans to attend each match.

The famous Roskilde music festival, which usually draws crowds of over 130,000 spectators, had to be cancelled as the permit was issued for only 2000. Justice Minister Nick Haekkerup argues that even though the epidemiological situation in Denmark with a population of 5.8 million is stable, he notes that many other countries are in the midst of a third wave and new closures, which Denmark wants to be careful to avoid. The Scandinavian country recently went into a partial lockdown with the closure of schools and all non-essential businesses.

In conclusion, one hopes that with effect from 1 June, our ports will welcome the first wave of tourists using an authentic travel certificate, either digital or on paper. One hopes the system will enable anyone vaccinated against Covid, or who has tested negative or recently recovered from the virus, to travel easily across all 27 member states.

Author: George Mangion
Published on The Malta Business Weekly on 14 May 2021
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