The EU’s COVID-19 ‘digital certificates’ are up and running

A regulation underpinning a digital certification system for individuals in the European Union to verify their COVID-19 status via a common credential has gone into application today — on schedule.

From today, almost all EU Member States are now able to issue and verify digital certificates, per the Commission — with only a handful of (mostly) EEA countries still pending a step, according to its website.

A number of countries had started issuing certificates earlier. The regulation also allows for a six-week phasing in period.

The Commission said more than 200 million certificates have been generated already.

The “EU Digital COVID Certificate” — which has gone through a few names since the idea was publicly floated back in January — is intended to help facilitate cross-border travel within the bloc by providing standardized and universally accepted certification.

EU citizens still have the right to free movement — even without the certificate — but having the common credential may help facilitate travel around the bloc, such as by exempting holders from needing to undergo COVID-19-related restrictions like quarantine.

Certificates can be issued to people within EU Member States who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus with a verified vaccine; who have previously had the disease (and therefore have antibodies); or to people who have had a recent negative test.

While it’s been called a “digital” certificate, a paper version can also be issued — which similarly contains a scannable QR code (albeit printed) — so there’s no requirement for individuals to have a mobile device to be able to use the certificate to help them travel.

Certificates are also issued free of charge.

The Commission has previously said that no personal data is “exchanged or retained” during the digital certificate verification process. Signature keys for the verification are stored on servers at a national level and only accessed — via a centralized gateway — at the point the certificate is scanned.

The EU rules for the digital certificate stipulate that Member States must refrain from imposing additional travel restrictions on holders — unless such steps are “necessary and proportionate” to safeguard public health.

The regulation is due to expire in a year’s time.

More information about the EU digital COVID certificate system can be found here.