Calls grow for COVID vaccination ‘passport’ in Europe

With COVID-19 vaccinations now gathering pace in Europe, attention is turning towards certificates that could be used to allow public access to venues, or to ease international travel.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said digital vaccination certificates allowing people to travel in Europe amid the pandemic could be available before the summer, saying after an EU member state summit that there is broad agreement this will be needed.

The European Commission has set a three-month timeframe to draw up the technical basis for the scheme, which aims to help revive Europe’s beleaguered holiday and tourism sector. The move raises an immediate question about how those certificates could be protected from falsification.

Singapore meanwhile says its government has been talking to other world leaders about the need to develop a secure, mutually recognised certification scheme, saying that using digital rather than printed certificates could help to ensure authenticity.

Europol has already issued a warning about the potential for criminal organizations to step into supply demand for false negative COVID-19 test certificates, as countries start to introduce a negative result as a condition of travel.

It pointed to recent examples, including a forgery ring selling negative test results to passengers at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris for €150 to €300 ($181-$362) that was recently dismantled. It’s inconceivable that opportunistic elements won’t try to make money from vaccination certificates as well.

Some countries – including Greece and Israel – already have vaccination certification schemes in place, and Greece and Austria have been urging EU27 member states to roll out a unified scheme.

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There have been reports that both France and Germany had been less enthusiastic, as vaccination may not be widely available by the summer, and they are concerned the scheme could be discriminatory to those unable or unwilling to receive a jab.

Israel – which is leading the world in vaccinations at the moment – has a Green Badge system in place that includes QR codes that can be scanned on entry to a location. The passport-like document will indicate whether a person has been vaccinated, or recovered from COVID-19, but there are already reports that thousands of Israeli’s have acquired forged certificates.

Hong Kong company HealthMatriX Technologies has said it has already developed a blockchain-based system, tied to paper documents with anti-counterfeit features, that could be used to tackle the falsification problem.

In the UK, meanwhile, the government is looking into the possible used of vaccine passports, possibly tied to the existing NHS track-and-trace app.

There has been a groundswell of public sentiment against the idea however: a petition asking the UK government not to introduce them had almost 210,000 signatures at last count, crossing the 100,000 threshold that means it must be debated in parliament.

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