Mixed reaction for "green" vaccine passport in Europe
-- As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across Europe and vaccination campaigns remain underway, the idea of issuing a vaccine passport has been under consideration among EU countries, and with differing views.
-- With yet no end in sight for the pandemic, European countries heavily dependent on tourism and services are eager to ease travel restrictions so as to sustain their struggling economies.
-- Some EU countries like Germany, France and Belgium are worried about the feasibility of a vaccine passport, including discrimination and inequality, as well as restrictions on those injected with vaccines not approved by the EMA.
The European Commission is planning to put forward its long-awaited and controversial Digital Green Pass on Wednesday, a vaccine passport designed to help Europe's safe re-opening.
The move is viewed as an important step for the European Union (EU) to gradually revive economic activities and bring life back to normal, while concern remains rife over the feasibility of such a certificate.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across Europe and vaccination campaigns remain underway, the idea of issuing a vaccine passport has been under consideration among EU countries, and with differing views.
With yet no end in sight for the pandemic, European countries heavily dependent on tourism and services are eager to ease travel restrictions so as to sustain their struggling economies.
The Digital Green Pass would provide proof that a person has been vaccinated, test results for those not yet vaccinated and information on COVID-19 recovery, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted on March 1, adding that the aim is to gradually enable safe travel within the EU or abroad, for work or tourism.
The EU is also reportedly planning to introduce a vaccine passport, valid only for holders injected with vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). So far, only four vaccines including Pfizer/BioNtech, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have been approved by the agency.
Another COVID-19 wave is sweeping across Europe and threatening to prolong restrictions and lockdowns. As of Monday, more than 24 million COVID-19 cases in total have been reported in the EU and the European Economic Area.
"We are seeing a resurgence in Central and Eastern Europe. New cases are also on the rise in several western European countries where rates were already high," World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge said on March 4 during a virtual press conference in Copenhagen.
Anxiety over the pandemic is further compounded by the slower-than-expected vaccination rollout across the continent due to supply and delivery problems.
As of Monday, some 46.8 million doses of vaccines have been administered within the bloc, according to figures released by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.
Countries such as Greece, Cyprus and Malta, which rely heavily on tourism and services and have been suffering from a sharp decline in tourists, expressed hope to put the vaccine passport into practice at the earliest time possible. Countries including Poland, Austria, Bulgaria also voiced their support.
"We support the adoption of a joint approach in relation to the Digital Green Pass," Deputy Minister for Tourism of Cyprus Savvas Perdios told Xinhua.
"Such a development could allow on the one hand vaccinated people to travel without the need for laboratory tests, while on the other would not exclude unvaccinated people (from traveling) as they would be able to do that by producing a negative test certificate for coronavirus," he added.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is the first European leader to raise the issue of a common European vaccine certificate, which "will serve the purpose of simplifying travel, once a significant percentage of people have been vaccinated," according to a press release from the prime minister's office.
Echoing Mitsotakis, Konrad Szymanski, Polish minister for European affairs, said "this solution must be a European solution, and it would be the best. Poland strongly supports work on the introduction of such a joint, mutually recognized certificate."
"We are very much in favour of the COVID-19 pass," said Anthony Zahra, president of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association.
"Tourism is affected all over Europe and not just in Malta," he told Xinhua, adding that "we need to find ways of restarting it once we have the vaccine and people are getting the protection they need."
Some EU countries like Sweden are developing their own vaccination certificates for use in international travel.
"Sweden is driving the development of digital vaccination certificates. We now have a model that is simple, safe, and versatile. I see these vaccination certificates being in place by the summer," Anders Ygeman, minister for Digital Development, said on March 5.
The Danish authorities are starting the procurement process for a digital coronavirus passport, according to a statement released by the Danish Digitization Agency on March 14.
"The Corona Pass must be developed as a user-friendly independent app that can document both vaccination status and test results from PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) tests and quick tests, as well as immunity in case of previous infection," said the statement.
Some EU countries like Germany, France and Belgium are worried about the feasibility of a vaccine passport, including discrimination and inequality, as well as restrictions on those injected with vaccines not approved by the EMA.
The WHO "does not recommend passports, but I also believe that as we see already, somehow, it may be unavoidable," said Kluge, adding that the passports should come with "some caveats."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said "as long as the number of vaccinated people is still so much smaller than those waiting to be vaccinated, the state should not treat the two groups differently."
"When we have made enough people an offer of vaccination and some refuse to be vaccinated, we will have to consider whether there should be openings and access only for vaccinated people in certain areas. But we are not there yet," Merkel said in an interview with German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Opinions are divided over the vaccine passport in Portugal. Prime Minister Antonio Costa said that "we are in favor of this as a measure for all Europe," while political commentator Luis Pedro Nunes said a vaccine passport is not going to work because of the existence of different types of vaccines and not all of them offer the same protection against COVID-19.