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OPINION & ANALYSIS

Is the Covid health pass helping to reduce infections in Spain?

As the Spanish regions that introduced the requirement of the Covid certificate for daily affairs consider how long to keep the measure for, we look at whether this document has served to lower infections during this sixth coronavirus wave. 

Health Ministry data suggests that the Covid health pass has done little to help against Omicron infections. Photo: Pascal POCHARD-CASABIANCA/AFP
Health Ministry data suggests that the Covid health pass has done little to help against Omicron infections. Photo: Pascal POCHARD-CASABIANCA/AFP

After almost two years of pandemic, Covid restrictions and rules have become part of daily life in Spain.

Curfews, mask wearing, capacity limits, hospitality closures – all have been controversial to an extent, but perhaps none more than the Covid-19 health pass for domestic matters. 

Thirteen of Spain’s 17 regional governments have received approval from local judges over the last two months to introduce the requirement of this document to access bars, restaurants, cafés, hospitals, care homes, events and more indoor public spaces, a measure the high courts initially rejected for “breaching fundamental rights”. 

MAP: Which regions in Spain require a Covid-19 health pass?

But the Covid health pass’s widespread use across Europe and the search for alternative ways to keep infections low and encourage the remaining few unvaccinated to get vaccinated ensured that the EU-wide accepted document made it to Spain. 

Has it served to prevent further Covid-19 infections during this sixth coronavirus wave?

The data doesn’t suggest so, and if it has helped to reduce infections, the difference is nowhere near big enough to prevent the record incidence that the Omicron variant has caused. 

According to Spanish health ministry data, the 13 regions that had the Covid-19 health pass rule in place in December 2021 saw their infections rise by 45 percent on average, with 1.6 million new cases.

In Navarre, the Basque Country and Aragón, all of which require a Covid certificate from citizens, the fortnightly infection rate is around 6,000 cases per 100,000 people, almost double the national average.

The Spanish regions that did not implement the Covid-19 health pass for daily affairs – Madrid, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla León and Extremadura – all currently have high infection rates but, with the exception of Castilla y León, are in the bottom half of the table. 

In terms of hospitalisations, there is no discernable difference between regions with or without the Covid-19 health pass requirement.

In hospitals in Castilla y León, Madrid, the Basque Country, Navarre, Aragón, Catalonia, the Valencian region and the Balearic Islands hospital bed occupancy by Covid patients is above 25 percent. In Asturias, Cantabria and Castilla-La Mancha it’s between 15 percent and 25 percent. In Extremadura, Murcia and Andalusia it’s below 15 percent and only Galicia are Covid hospitalisations take up fewer than 10 percent of beds.

SPAIN-HEALTH-VIRUS-PASS-DEMO

Opposition to the Covid health pass hasn’t been as big in Spain as in other European countries but protests have been held, such as this one in Barcelona in December where demonstrators hold a banner reading “health passport, totalitarian state”. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)

As for ICU occupancy, Cantabria and Catalonia have the highest rate of ICU admissions due to Covid-19. Both regions require the Covid-19 health pass from citizens for different daily affairs. The rate of patients in ICU has increased across all regions.

And in terms of Covid deaths, there is again no clear difference to be drawn between the regions that require and those that don’t require the Covid certificate when looking at the coronavirus deaths per million rate or the 857 Covid deaths confirmed in Spain over the last week.

So it appears that the Covid health pass does little to help against Omicron infections.

Has the health document played a part in at least keeping the unvaccinated away from hospital and serious illness? 

Quite possibly – unvaccinated patients continue to make up the majority of serious cases, with Spanish health data showing the Covid-19 vaccine reduces the chance of hospitalisation by 78.6 percent and ending up in ICU by 85.9 percent. 

The Covid-19 health pass has probably also served to increase the rate of vaccination in Spain, with now only 6.7 percent of the total population – 828,000 people – unvaccinated against Covid-19. 

What the Covid certificate has not clearly achieved is to prevent Covid-19 infections (or reinfections, which have now quintupled in Spain under this variant) during Spain’s sixth wave.

READ MORE: Andalusia and Valencia regions extend Covid health pass requirement

The thirteen Spanish regions that implemented the Covid health pass only have a temporary judicial approval to keep the measure in place, so authorities will have to consider soon if it’s worth maintaining in a country where vaccine uptake has been so high among the population.

However, most European countries are sticking by their Covid health pass measures, and in the case of France tightening the rules, with the Covid health pass for daily affairs now only a vaccine pass, thus not allowing a negative Covid test as proof of not being infected.

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COVID-19 RULES

What are the penalties in Spain for having a fake Covid-19 certificate?

As the EU Digital Covid Certificate and other forms of proof of Covid-19 status are likely to be in use in Spain for all of 2022, we take a look at the fines and prison sentences that Spanish authorities can hand out to those with forged documents.

What are the penalties in Spain for having a fake Covid-19 certificate?

The Covid-19 pass or certificate has been divisive since it was introduced in 2021, with some seeing it as the most straightforward tool to find out one’s vaccination, testing or recovery status, and others considering it discriminatory and ineffective. 

Whatever your opinion of it, an official Covid-19 certificate – which usually includes a QR Code – will continue being required for travel to and from Spain in 2022. In fact, the European Commission has recently proposed that EU Covid Digital Certificates should be in use until at least June 30th 2023. 

The requirement of a Covid pass for domestic affairs in Spain such as going into a restaurant or a museum is decided by local governments, and although more and more regions are getting rid of its usage, it may not be completely scrapped for domestic matters altogether. 

So what happens if you are caught in possession of a fake Covid-19 certificate in Spain?

According to Article 392 of Spain’s Penal Code, forging official documents can result in prison sentences of between six months and three years. In some cases, sentences under two years don’t result in actual jail time, but not always.  

Crucially, Spanish law will treat the person who forged the document equally to the person who commissioned it or used it, resulting in the same punishment. 

Being caught in possession of a forged Covid-19 pass can also carry fines that vary depending on the person’s available savings and the length of the penalty, making it hard to give exact amounts. 

It can start from €6 a day, which is multiplied by the number of days of the financial sentence, which is usually from six to twelve months. Therefore the minimum fine could be around €1,095.

Forging the result of Covid-19 on a medical certificate carries different penalties as it does not constitute the forgery of an official state document but rather a privately issued one, and is therefore regulated under Article 399 of Spain’s Criminal Code. 

A potential prison sentence wouldn’t be possible in this case but a substantial fine similar to that for falsifying Covid-19 certificates could apply.

In both cases, regional high courts and governments may apply their own regional legislation, which can be more or less punitive, especially in financial terms. 

Spanish police have recently been carrying out arrests of criminal gangs that were selling fake Covid passports online for as much as €200 or €300. 

There are no recently reported cases of foreign tourists being arrested or fined in Spain for arriving with a fake Covid-19 certificate or test, but failing to meet Spain’s entry requirements can result in a minimum fine of €3,000.

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