„...We can already see the light at the end of this complicated period and there's a lot of talk about a global post-pandemic boom. The time has come for us to prepare for this revival. The vaccination passport will soon become a binding document for those who wish to travel...”
On my last trip in May 2021 I needed more travel documents. In addition to my passport, boarding pass, I needed a certificate confirming that I did not have COVID-19, resulting in the negative PCR test, carried out 72 hours before travel.
I also had the antibody titre test in my phone, and the first-dose vaccination certificate. They weren't required. The rule of entry into the country of destination was a simple one: a negative PCR test no older than 72 hours.
Upon entering Switzerland, I had to upload a special application, through which I received a QR code, confirmation that I can move freely and do not have to stay in quarantine. To be very clear: the negative PCR test allowed me to cross the border and enter the country. Whether or not to stay in quarantine – decides the application, depending on the colour of the country from which you come. I came from the green country, i.e. I didn't stay in quarantine.
What to expect soon?
A week ago the European Commission - the EU's executive body - proposed relaxing the rules of entry into the community as early as the beginning of this month, saying that the right of entry into the EU should be granted to people fully vaccinated with EU-authorized serums. The list of coronavirus vaccines, authorized by the European Medicines Agency, the regulatory body for human medicines, includes those, produced by Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.
The Executive Committee also proposed to allow EU member countries to decide individually - whether to allow entry for travellers, immunized with vaccines, approved by the World Health Organization for emergency use, which also includes the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine. Similar decisions are also under consideration by the authorities in USA, China, Japan. This is a clear signal that people will soon become more mobile and will be able to travel, but under certain conditions.
What is required to enter the EU?
Several countries have established among the conditions, when crossing the border, the presence of a document, which would confirm:
negative result of the PCR test for COVID-19 (performed 72 hours before entry)
vaccination certificate, issued in the last 6 months (with both doses, if specified for the vaccine regimen)
certificate about antibodies to COVID-19 (for those who have been through the disease in the last 6 months).
The rules differ from country to country and depend on (1) the country you come from and (2) the passport you intend to travel with. It is fair to research your destination country by these two criteria before your trip. For example, if you leave Chisinau with a Romanian passport to an EU country, it is recommended to read the entry conditions for both countries: Moldova and Romania. They could be similar. But there are also cases when the entry conditions differ, and then it's good to know them and be prepared.
Vaccination passport: digital or paper based?
Debates about vaccination passports are in full swing. Now most EU countries issue paper-based certificates for those vaccinated. In most cases they are printed on A4 white sheets with a digital signature on them. Germany and Switzerland have produced yellow forms printed on a higher density paper, such as cardboard, in A5 format. This form is possible to fold into the form of a passport. It is an official document for travel to these countries, but it is not yet that international digital green passport.
The data of those vaccinated shall be kept in the national health information systems of each EU country. From December 2020, work is being done with the WHO on a digital SMART vaccination certificate, valid for all people, regardless of nationality. It should be noted that the WHO is currently not in favour of applying these certificates in practice, as unequal access to vaccines is signalled and possible discrimination will be generated for those who do not yet have access to vaccination.
With all these contradictory views, the development of the digital green passport continues extensively in the EU, USA, Japan, China.
This passport is supposed to be a digital one, i.e. be in the form of a single global application. It is assumed that many countries already have national applications, respectively, they will need their connections within the global app. National applications collect data on those who have been through COVID-19 disease, including PCR tests, antibody tests, vaccine doses administered. All these data must be loaded into this global app or may be passed from one national app to another national app.
Among the technical problems flagged at this time are:
the technical possibility of collecting data from different countries and ensuring their real time exchange.
harmonization of the quality of the tests and their results.
harmonization of vaccines used and recognition of national vaccination certificates in the territory of another country.
the validity term of certificates and test results.
to ensure for all these applications the uninterrupted functionality.
the registration of citizens from non-EU countries in these applications.
to ensure the protection of users' personal data.
to make the app work compatible on phones of various generations.
Realistically speaking, in the next three months, we will travel with vaccination certificates or test results on the paper, with possible small exceptions. The paper passport option is supposed to be retained in the future for those who do not have digital devices.
What will non-EU countries do?
Countries that are not part of the European Union will need a code of national rules. National travel rules for those entering Moldova, for example, will also include the requirements for entry into the country, with the mandatory presence of one of the documents mentioned above.
The possibility of using the EU platform for digital passports for non-EU countries is not excluded, presuming that the list of applied vaccines, and the used tests is harmonized. The possibility of bilateral validations, i.e., between EU countries, on the one hand, and non-EU, on the other, of the list of applied vaccines and tests and the templates for vaccination and/or testing certificates used in both countries is also assumed.
It is assumed that the rules of entry into the country will depend more on the country of origin than on the nationality of the passport. If someone already vaccinated, will return to the EU from a red country, this man will be forced to be quarantined for 10 days. If he returns from the green country, there is no need for quarantine. There are still many unknowns in this vaccination passport equation. Soon we will have more clarity and more options to travel to different countries.
Eighteen months ago the pandemic came as an unexpected wave, which stopped an entire world for an indefinite period. We can already see the light at the end of this period and there's a lot of talk about a global post-pandemic boom. The time has come for us to prepare for this revival. The vaccination passport will soon become a binding document for those who wish to travel.