An administrative worker explains to people how to fill up the national vaccination certificate in a vaccination center in Strasbourg, France, March 18, 2021. France is set to announce new coronavirus restrictions on Thursday, including a potential lockdo

COVID-19

The EU proposes certificates to ease travel during the pandemic. Not everyone is on board.

People who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and those who have tested negative for the virus as well as those who have recovered from it would receive a certificate. 

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An administrative worker explains to people how to fill up the national vaccination certificate in a vaccination center in Strasbourg, France, March 18, 2021. France is set to announce new coronavirus restrictions on Thursday, including a potential lockdown in the Paris region and in the north of the country, as the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units spikes.

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Jean-Francois Badias/AP 

As Europe confronts a third wave of COVID-19 infections and deaths, and amid a fiasco caused by a sudden suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine by several countries, European authorities have introduced a certificate scheme aimed at easing travel across the bloc’s 27 member states.

Under the Digital Green Certificate proposal, which the European Commission unveiled on Wednesday, certificate holders would be eligible to bypass certain public health restrictions, such as quarantine requirements when traveling within the EU.

Related: Lessons from Europe’s third coronavirus wave

People who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and those who have tested negative for the virus as well as those who have recovered from it would receive a certificate.

“With this digital certificate, we aim to help member states reinstate the freedom of movement in a safe, responsible and trusted manner.”

Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president 

“With this digital certificate, we aim to help member states reinstate the freedom of movement in a safe, responsible, and trusted manner,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during Wednesday’s announcement.

Leaders hope to have the system up and running by the summer. They said they would suspend it once the World Health Organization (WHO) lifts its declaration of an international public health emergency caused by COVID-19.

The commission is leaving many of the thorny details of the program — such as which vaccines would exempt travelers from certain restrictions — up to individual countries to decide.

While countries that rely heavily on tourism, such as Greece, have advocated for so-called vaccine passports and freer movement between member states, other countries, including Germany and France, have been more reluctant, citing discrimination fears and other concerns.

“You are dividing society into two groups: those who have the certificate and those who do not.”

 Alberto Alemanno, a professor of EU law at HEC Paris 

“You are dividing society into two groups: those who have the certificate and those who do not,” said Alberto Alemanno, a professor of EU aw at HEC Paris and an early critic of vaccine passports.

He said the EU scheme is problematic partly because there is not equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines or even tests.

Related: The biggest challenge for vaccine workers in Pakistan? Staying alive.

And he called the plan “scientifically shaky,” pointing to the WHO recommendation against exempting travelers who have been vaccinated from complying with other risk-reduction measures.

“There are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission,” the WHO wrote in its guidance, issued in February.

The WHO said on Thursday it was reviewing the details of the European proposal. European leaders are expected to discuss the proposal at a summit next week. The proposal would eventually have to be approved by the European Parliament.

“It is not a done deal,” Alemanno said. “The jury is still out.” 

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