The digital certificate was presented as a “green passport” to certify that users have been fully vaccinated, have recovered from the disease or have tested negative for COVID-19. In recent weeks, it has become an essential tool for those who travel or want to access some services, such as restaurants and hotels or tourist accommodation, according to the rules applied by the Government in high-risk councils, but some users are having difficulties in obtaining the document.
The system for issuing certificates, which began to be used in Portugal on June 16, entered into force throughout the European Union on July 1, and with the approach of vacations and the reduction of restrictive measures in several countries, there were many citizens who sought to obtain the certificate as “free transit” to return to a situation of greater normality.
Despite the initial challenge to the process, the European Union ended up giving the green light to the system and confirming its application in all countries, although work is still being done on the harmonization of processes. And there are new recommendations for the verification of certificates, which present a two-dimensional code (QR Code) that can be read with the help of an application in order to verify validity.
The Shared Services of the Ministry of Health (SPMS) confirmed to SAPO TEK that, on July 16, 3 million and eight hundred thousand EU COVID digital certificates had been issued, covering the three possible situations, and that these can be obtained through the SNS 24 portal, as well as the SNS 24 app on Android and iOS. There are users who received the document by email without even having asked for it, but SAPO TEK knows that some users have had difficulty completing the process, with indications of errors in the procedure.
In some cases to which we had access, only after several insistence was the certificate unlocked, with access to the user document already with the two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, but there are more serious situations, resulting from incomplete contact details, or households of older users.
One of the situations that was reported to us indicated that there was no valid contact for the generation of an access code to the certificate, in which case the same phone number was used by two users, in which only one of them managed to obtain the certificate.
SAPO TEK questioned the SPMS about this situation, and the indication given to us is that “people who do not have up-to-date contacts should go to their health unit (health center) and promote the updating of their contacts. After updating the contacts, the user is able to obtain the COVID EU digital certificate through the SNS 24” portal.
The resolution requires a face-to-face visit, in situations that often affect older users with less digital literacy.
SPMS also mentions that “since last week it is possible to consult the COVID UE digital certificate in the SNS 24 app, for that, just install the SNS 24 mobile application and authenticate yourself using the Mobile Digital Key”, a solution that is also not very practical for older users.
The SNS24 can be of help to clarify doubts, but updating contacts in Health Centers seems to be the only way for these users to obtain the digital certificate. And in this case, we are still talking about older users, but when vaccination is extended to younger users, the problem may be repeated, as many guardians have their contacts associated with informing younger children, and not only that.
How does the Digital Certificate work and where to use it?
SAPO TEK has compiled a set of questions that it has been updating and that intend to clarify the main doubts about the Digital Certificate, Green Certificate or Green Passport, as the document is also known.
Where can I order the Digital Certificate?
To request the document, visit the SNS24 portal. You can also use the SNS24 application.
What are the Digital Certificate options?
When you ask for a certificate, you can choose one of three options: the Vaccination certificate, which proves that the citizen in question has already taken at least the vaccine against COVID-19; the Testing certificate, in case you have not yet been vaccinated but tested negative to COVID-19; finally, a Recovery certificate, that is, proving that it was infected, but that it recovered from COVID-19, becoming immune to the virus.
What data is needed?
Once one of the three options is chosen, you will have to indicate the date of birth on the form’s calendar, as well as the user number of the National Health Service, which you can see on the Citizen’s Card, for example. Afterwards, you must confirm the data processing by the health service authorities, so that the access code to the European Union COVID Digital Certificate can be sent to you.
Do I need to pay for the Digital Certificate?
The document is free and works as a kind of boarding pass on trips, or “free transit” for access to restaurants, hotels and other accommodation. It can be presented in a paper or digital format and is bilingual, in the citizen’s national language and in English.
How is the Digital Certificate valid?
The document has a QR code to be easily read by electronic equipment. Reading can be done with an application or a code reader, similar to those used in supermarkets.
When is the Digital Certificate valid?
Although it can be issued right after taking the vaccines, the Certificate is only valid 14 days after vaccination, after which the vaccine itself is considered valid.
How does it work or Green Certificate?
The document indicates the date of vaccination (or the different doses), tests performed or recovery from the COVID-19 disease, in order to cover all options for citizens. Note that the document is only valid for vaccines that have been approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). So far only four vaccines are valid: BioNTech Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Janssen. The certificate thus opens doors, for example, to US citizens who have already been vaccinated by the respective companies.
See images of the Covid Digital Certificate in the gallery
How much does the certificate cost?
The COVID European Digital Certificate is free, safe and accessible to everyone. It is also mentioned that the issuance of the document must be easy to obtain, and with retroactive effects, that is, it must also be available to people who have been vaccinated before the entry into force of the COVID European Digital Certificate. The European Commission decided to mobilize 100 million euros to support Member States to offer tests accessible to citizens and thus break any discriminatory barriers between those who have already been vaccinated or not.
What is the format of the document?
The document is bilingual and is available in digital format (PDF), as well as on paper, depending on the citizens’ choice. Either format will feature a digital QR code for easy reading by the proper authorities.
Are there any reasons for fears regarding the violation of citizens’ privacy rights?
The certificate will be completely secure and will not violate the users’ private data, as only essential information will be included: name, date of birth, date of issue, as well as relevant information on the issues of testing, vaccination or recovery of COVID-19, so as a unique identifier element of the certificate. Data can only be consulted to confirm and verify the authenticity and validity of the respective certificates.
Can external countries travel to the European Union before issuing the certificate?
Prior to the final agreement, it had been mentioned that before the Green Passport is ready, Member States must accept certificates issued by other countries that contain at least the dates (of testing, vaccination, etc.), in accordance with the respective law national. But entities must take into account the need to verify the authenticity, validity and integrity of the respective certificate.
What are the conditions for Member States to receive citizens from countries outside the European Union?
Restrictions must be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. At the European Council it was mentioned that if Member States accept proof of vaccination from the countries of origin to lift restrictions, mandatory testing or the need for quarantine; they must also lift non-essential travel restrictions for travelers from third countries who have received at least the recommended dose of vaccine at least 14 days before their arrival. As well as 14 days before the last dose of the vaccination program recommended by the World Health Organization.
What other countries and citizens can receive the certificate?
In addition to the 27 countries of the European Union, the certificate is open to Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. And in addition to European Union citizens, the document will also be issued to members of their family, regardless of their nationality. Also non-EU nationals residing in the territory and for visitors who have the right to visit other Member States.
What measures are taken against the risk of new variants of COVID-19 entering the European Union?
The European Council agreed to create an emergency brake mechanism to allow Member States to act quickly and in a coordinated manner in the possible spread of variants of COVID-19. These measures will help to progressively summarize international travel to wherever it is possible to travel safely, but at the same time ensure that there is quick action in case of new outbreaks.
Countries that have registered, in the 14 days prior to arrival, an average of less than 75 per 100,000 inhabitants of new cases can travel to the European Union, even if they have to show the respective tests or vaccination certificate of the accredited brands. And this requirement is very high and compared to Europe, according to data from the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention, only five countries in the European Union register this target, including Portugal (the lowest with 47.82 as of 21 May), Malta, Finland, Romania and Iceland.
Will the COVID European Digital Certificate also be accepted nationally?
Yes, the document can be used by Member States for national matters if they are considered in their respective national law.
I already have the COVID European Digital Certificate. Can the countries of the European Union make any more impositions?
Under the approved law, Member States should no longer impose travel restrictions on holders of the COVID European Digital Certificate, unless it is necessary and appropriate to safeguard public health under specific emergency conditions. And in case a Member State continues to demand quarantine or tests from citizens with a digital certificate, it will have to notify and justify to the European Commission and other countries the reasons for these measures.
Will the COVID European Digital Certificate be a lifetime document?
The COVID European Digital Certificate is described as a temporary measure. It will be suspended as soon as the World Health Organization (WHO) declares the end of the international emergency of the COVID-19 pandemic.