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COVID-19 HEALTH PASS

Why has the Covid health pass for daily affairs been rejected in Spain and not elsewhere in Europe?

Twenty-two European countries require hospitality green passes or similar health passports for citizens and tourists to enter restaurants, bars, museums and more public places. So why is Spain the exception?

Why has the Covid health pass for daily affairs been rejected in Spain and not elsewhere in Europe?
Photo: Cristina Quicler/AFP

Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece and Italy are among the countries in Europe which have – to a greater or lesser extent – introduced covid health pass schemes to control access to the interior of hospitality, sporting and cultural venues. 

But in Spain, the launch of a Digital Covid Certificate to verify that customers and visitors have been vaccinated, tested or recovered from Covid-19 hasn’t managed to take off. 

Regional authorities in four Spanish regions – the Canary Islands, Andalusia, Cantabria and Galicia – have all seen how the introduction of such measures was pushed aside by local judges.

On Wednesday August 18th, Spain’s Supreme Court ruled against the matter of using Spain’s Digital Covid Certificate to access nightlife venues.

This suggests that there will be little point for any of Spain’s 17 regional governments to attempt to use Covid health passes in their territories for any purpose other than travel abroad, and if such measures were introduced, they would only be in force for a matter of days or weeks until a court shelved it.

The reasoning of judges, both regional and national, is that having to prove Covid vaccination, testing or recovery status to enter a bar or visit a museum breaches fundamental rights without having enough of a positive impact on public health.

In the case of the Supreme Court’s latest decision, there wasn’t enough “substantial justification” for the requirement of a health pass in bars and nightclubs across the entire region of Andalusia, seeing it more as a “preventative measure” rather than a necessary action.  

Instead their verdict is that such a measure “restrictively affects basic elements of freedom of movement and the right of assembly,” and that even “a technical report from the General Directorate of Public Health” of Andalusia is just an “opinion that does not allow us to understand the proportionality of said measure”.

Photo: Cesar Manso/AFP

This clashes with the stance of judges in neighbouring France, where the top national court approved the government’s Covid health passports for locals and tourists to enter a variety of establishments, only tweaking the initial conditions.

In Italy, the national government has been able to require Covid health passes to access certain venues without the matter having to go to the constitutional court.

In Germany, restrictions vary between states but proof of Covid testing or vaccination is widely accepted for hospitality customers to be allowed inside establishments.

However, the EU’s three biggest economies have seen thousands of protesters take to the streets to slam the mandatory imposition of these QR Code documents. 

In Austria and Norway, Covid health passes are also considered legal and haven’t been met with much resistance by the public. 

Sweden on the other hand is among the EU countries where Covid health passes for venues haven’t been introduced, with the Scandinavian nation continuing with a more unregulated way of handling the pandemic and the matter of health passports is not even due to appear in court.

READ MORE: 

But overall Spain stands out for being the country in Europe where the long arm of the law has managed to topple the Covid health pass most often. 

The reason for this? Ever since Spain ended its state of alarm on May 9th there’s been a clear change of stance by the courts. 

The state of alarm justified and protected emergency measures quickly rolled out by regional governments, which crucially didn’t require approval from local or national judges. 

Ever since the loss of this legal protection, high courts in the Valencia region, the Balearics, Catalonia, the Canaries and almost all regions in Spain have scrapped everything from curfews to limits on social gatherings, all under the premise that it’s not constitutional to breach fundamental rights when there’s no longer a state of alarm. 

The special powers that come with a state of emergency may explain why in countries such as Germany and Italy, both of which have extended their state of alarm, authorities haven’t had to jump through too many legal loopholes for Covid pass legislation to be green-lighted.

But as things stand in Spain, judges have the final word on Covid restrictions, something for which two of the main associations representing them consider that the Spanish government has acted “irresponsibly” and not legislated correctly by just ‘passing the buck’ to them.

For the time being, Covid passes, health passports, Covid Digital Certificates or however you prefer to call them, remain a useful document to prove Covid health status for the purpose of travel in the EU, but not for domestic day-to-day matters.

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Member comments

  1. So – as an employee with a permanent health condition where the treatment leaves me immuno-compromised, if I catch Covid at work because my employer didn’t insist that people entering the premises were vaccinated, does this mean the responsibility lies with me for working while disabled? With my employer for being foolish enough to employ someone who is disabled? Or with a judiciary who consider the consequences of a potentially deadly infection of the immune-suppressed to be “an opinion that does not allow us to understand the proportionality of said measure”.

    Bear in mind we’re not saying that people be prevented from exercising basic elements of freedom of movement and the right of assembly. Just that they do so responsibly enough to prevent the infection of those of us unfortunate enough to be disabled and unfortunate enough to have to share space with them.

    Of course it’s a rhetorical question because, as all disabled people know, when it comes to making money we get shoved aside.

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COVID-19

How can tourists and people vaccinated abroad get Spain’s Covid health pass for daily affairs?

As Spain’s regions start to require a Covid certificate to enter bars, restaurants and other indoor areas, we look at whether tourists or residents in Spain vaccinated abroad can get the Spanish Covid health pass for daily affairs, and if there are any alternatives or solutions.  

A waiter checks a customer's Covid-19 health pass on a mobile phone at the entrance of a restaurant. Photo: FRANCOIS LO PRESTI/AFP
A waiter checks a customer's Covid-19 health pass on a mobile phone at the entrance of a restaurant. Photo: FRANCOIS LO PRESTI/AFP

A growing number of autonomous communities in Spain are getting approval from their local high courts to implement the requirement of the Covid Digital Certificate (or Covid health passport or pass) for domestic matters. 

The rules vary between regions but the requirement of showing a paper or digital certificate on your mobile phone reflecting full vaccination, testing or recovery is now applicable for many bars, cafés, restaurants, nightclubs, hospitals, care homes, weddings, other celebrations and large events across the country. 

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs? 

But do people in Spain – visitors or residents – who have been vaccinated abroad also need to show this Covid certificate issued in Spain for daily affairs? Or can Covid health passes issued abroad be used instead?

Here’s what we know so far:

The Covid-19 health pass for daily affairs is new in Spain, having only been used and checked for international travel purposes until recently. 

That may explain why Spanish authorities have not yet made an official announcement about what foreign visitors have to show when on their holidays in Spain. 

Spain’s Certificado Digital Covid is usually issued by the country’s 17 different regional authorities, who are the ones who have to ask their high courts to approve their use for daily affairs. 

These documents, which can be downloaded on each regional government’s website, are no different from the Covid health passports used for travel.

Foreign tourists in Spain 

Unlike in France, where visitors have to convert their vaccine certificates or tests into a format that’s compatible with the French system, Spain recognises certificates issued “by the competent authorities” of other countries.

There is no expectation that tourists provide a Spain-issued Covid health pass as these are only technically available to people who were vaccinated by the Spanish public health system (more on that later). 

If asked for a Covid certificate for domestic matters in Spain, the same Covid certificate which tourists use to travel to Spain (and had to upload to the Spain Travel Health website or app to get a QR code) contains the information required to show your vaccination, testing or recovery status.

Vaccination certificates accepted by Spanish authorities have to be in either Spanish, English, French or German (if not it should be accompanied by an official translation into Spanish by an official body).

A waitress talks to a tourist at a restaurant on a beach in Magaluf on the Island of Mallorca on July 27, 2020. - Tour operator TUI has cancelled all British holidays to mainland Spain from today until August 9, after the UK government's decision to require travellers returning from the country to quarantine. (Photo by JAIME REINA / AFP)
On December 2nd, authorities in the Balearic Islands started to require a Covid-19 health pass for customers to access the indoor spaces of bars, cafés and restaurants. Photo: Jaime Reina/AFP

They also have to show the name and surname of the vaccinated person, the date of vaccination (indicating the date of the last dose administered), the type of vaccine administered and the number of doses administered. 

Spain recognises the NHS Covid Pass, other EU Digital Covid Certificates, vaccination certificates issued in the US and others that fulfil the criteria above. 

Will police officers be checking tourists’ Covid health passes? So far, only the Valencia region has announced it plans to deploy police officers to ensure businesses and customers are abiding by the new rules. 

But in general terms, it seems more likely that it will be managers and staff checking Covid health passes to allow access to indoor spaces.

They will no doubt skim through tourists’ digital Covid passes, look for the name of an approved vaccine and that “2 out of 2” doses have been administered and wave them in, rather than scanning any QR codes. 

So all things considered, if you’re a tourist in Spain who needs to prove full vaccination, testing or recovery to enter an indoor space, carry with you the Covid-19 health pass or vaccine certificate you used to travel to Spain. 

Residents vaccinated abroad 

Many foreign residents in Spain as well as Spaniards overseas have had to face the problem of not being able to access the Covid certificate of the region they’re in. 

The Local Spain reported on this last July, when the primary problem of not being able to download these documents was the difficulties it meant for travel. 

READ MORE: ‘We’re in limbo’: The foreigners in Spain who can’t get a Digital Covid Certificate for travel

It’s affected people who did get vaccinated in Spain but don’t have public health details as they use private health insurance, residents who were vaccinated in another country, tourists who got Covid-19 in Spain but couldn’t get proof of recovery and those who’ve run into other technical problems or misunderstood situations. 

Now the problem of not being able to get a Spain-issued Covid-19 health could – depending on their location – mean they can’t access certain indoor public spaces either.

Are there any potential solutions?

Some regional health departments such as the Valencian Community’s are willing to accept foreign vaccination certificates and provide those with public health details a Spanish Covid health pass, but this isn’t necessarily possible everywhere in the country. 

Sources from Spain’s Ministry of Health reportedly told Spanish online website Newtral.es that “the registration of a vaccination carried out abroad depends on the criteria of the healthcare professional” and is determined by whether the documents provided are “reliable to be considered as proof of vaccination”.

In other words, as we’ve seen at previous stages of the pandemic, people in this situation can be slightly at the mercy of what an individual health worker or health centre considers appropriate; a case of crossing your fingers and hoping for the best.

This was previously seen when people who had had Covid-19 needed a second dose to be able to travel to countries such as the US or the UK, but had to ask around at different vaccination centres in the hope that one health worker would break protocol.

Fortunately, the Spanish government eventually caught wind of this and people in this situation can now request a second vaccination as there’s a national rule in place.

Our hope is that by covering the limbo in which many people in Spain still find themselves in vis-à-vis Covid-19 health passes, Spain’s Health Ministry will take action.

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