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UPDATED: Everything you need to know about the Covid certificate, Switzerland's coronavirus immunity card

The Local
The Local - [email protected] • 7 Jun, 2021 Updated Mon 7 Jun 2021 12:59 CEST
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An example of a coronavirus vaccination passport. Photo by Lukas on Unsplash

Swiss officials have spoken out in favour of a digital coronavirus immunity card to allow a ‘return to normality’. Here's what we know so far.

With vaccinations continuing throughout Switzerland and across the world, governments have begun plotting their first steps in returning to normal. 

As Switzerland began to emerge from the pandemic, it became clear that a central aspect of this return to normality will involve the implementation of some kind of coronavirus ‘immunity card’. 

READ MORE: Switzerland to introduce coronavirus a vaccine certificate ‘by summer’

Otherwise known as a ‘green card’ or ‘vaccination certificate’, the certificate will be a digitalised form of the existing vaccination passport which would entitle holders to certain privileges. 

While it is early days yet, there is clear support among the public and the government for such a plan. 

In early June, the government announced the pass would be implemented from June 7th.

Here’s what we know so far. 

What is a coronavirus immunity card?

Although the exact specifics of a coronavirus immunity card have not been defined in Switzerland, the ‘card’ - which would be in digital and paper form (i.e. as a printable QR code which can also be shown on a mobile phone) - is expected to have two major functions: domestic and international. 

In both cases, they will be accompanied by an official government electronic signature, while authorities said holders will also need to show their ID or passport when presenting the certificate

The government said it aims "to develop a standardised, forgery-proof and internationally recognised certificate".

On the one hand it will form part of an international arrangement which will allow for travel to again take place. 

On the other, it will allow certain privileges to people domestically - for instance visiting bars and restaurants, along with events and participating in sports and leisure activities. 

This will not however mean two separate cards - all functions will instead be placed on the one document. 

These will be tackled separately below. 

International: Will the immunity card allow me to travel?

The card will be introduced as part of the European Union’s international immunity card plan. 

The EU Commission presented its proposal for a vaccination card in mid-March, which should be ready before summer.

Brussels wanted to include Switzerland in this project, based on the bilateral agreement on the free movement of persons. What is needed from Switzerland is a system that is compatible with the EU's platform, officials said.

National Councilor Regine Sauter, who launched the debate in this subject in the Swiss parliament, said it is crucial for Switzerland to take action, or “we will end up on the sidelines, while the citizens of other countries have long been allowed to travel freely again”.

Swiss approach should be compatible with the EU’s, she noted. "It is essential that the vaccination certificate is recognised in international travel”.

"The Covid certificate will be designed to be used to enter and leave other countries, and to be internationally compatible", authorities said.

With a view to introducing an internationally recognised certificate, the federal government is monitoring the work of the World Health Organization (WHO) on the Smart Vaccination Certificate and the EU’s Digital Green Certificate. The latter is intended to form a model for national vaccination, test and recovery certificates in each canton. Individual cantons will decide on the situations in which the certificates will be required.

The cantons, the Swiss Medical Association, Pharmasuisse, vaccinating doctors and pharmacies have all been involved in getting this project off the ground.

READ MORE: ‘Green pass’: European Commission to propose EU-wide vaccine passports for summer

The Swiss government has indicated that it supports such an idea, however the Federal Office of Public Health is concerned with the potential for forgeries. 

According to authorities, "the focus will be on ensuring the security of the system and authenticating the bodies that will issue the certificate". The certificate must also be personal and forgery-proof, which means additional identification, such as a passport or ID card.

"To ensure data security, it will only be possible to verify the authenticity and validity of the certificate at the place where it is presented",  the government stated.

Swiss national broadcaster SRF reports that doing so is likely to be a condition of Switzerland’s Schengen membership, i.e. that if Switzerland changes its position on the matter, it could lead to the termination of the Schengen Agreement. 

At this stage however, that is unlikely as the government has indicated it will support the scheme and take part in it. 

Domestically: What will the immunity card look like inside Switzerland?

It is important to reiterate that this is a separate yet linked proposal which requires the Swiss government’s intervention. This means that while the card will provide certain uniform travel privileges throughout Europe, the way it operates at a domestic level will differ in each country. 

When announcing that the pass would be introduced on June 7th, the main functionality was international - with the domestic specifics still to be ironed out. 

As at April 2021, the domestic immunity pass - which would allow visits to bars, restaurants, events and taking part in sports - has widespread government support. 

The pass will be voluntary. 

When fully implemented, the card will allow people to have access to major events, bars and clubs. 

On June 8th, the government released further information about how the pass will work domestically. More information is available at the following link. 

READ MORE: What will Switzerland’s Covid-19 pass allow you to do?

What will it look like? 

The Swiss government said in late May that the document should be easy to use and to read – which is why it will be implemented uniformly across the country. 

Berset told Swiss media that he did not want it to become a cantonal responsibility as the result would be 26 different types of certificates. 

Therefore, while it will be implemented by the cantons, it has been developed federally. 

When the immunity pass is up and running it will be implemented as a QR code. 

People can either carry it in paper form (i.e. printed out as it’s a little difficult to draw an accurate QR code) or on a mobile phone, tablet or other similar device. 

Indications are that it may become a part of the Swiss Covid app, although more work needs to be done in this area as this app does not work in older smartphones. 

When will it be introduced?

The Swiss government has announced the immunity card will be implemented from June 7th onwards. 

"The certificate should be issued at the place where the person has been tested or vaccinated", authorities added.

How do people feel about the idea?

It  has widespread support both among the Swiss government - and among readers of The Local. 

Swiss President Guy Parmelin said in February that he expects a certificate of vaccination against Covid-19 will soon be mandatory on international flights.

"In the future, anyone who wishes to travel will need to be vaccinated", Parmelin said in an interview with NZZ on in February. 

He also noted that he would find it “appropriate and understandable” that organisers of mass events like football matches or concerts, adopt the same requirement.

“The Federal Council has to still discuss how we want to regulate this. But I would give great priority to the interests of security”, he added.

A leaked document obtained by the media in late February showed the government's tentative plan to allow vaccinated people to have certain privileges. 

Leaked: Switzerland’s proposal to allow certain benefits for vaccinated people 

The idea has received prominent support from Swiss politicians and health experts - as well as the general public. 

In a poll of Local Switzerland readers, more than two thirds told us they would sign up for a coronavirus immunity card which would allow them to visit bars, events and concerts again. 

Verdict: Should Switzerland introduce a Covid-19 immunity pass?

There are other hurdles for lawmakers to jump in the development of a domestic green pass, for instance who should check that a person is complying - i.e. the venue (bar or restaurant) or the police in carrying out random controls. 

Is this plan legal? 

Yes. Swiss parliament created the legal basis for the immunity pass as part of the Covid-19 legislation

Is it just for vaccinated people - what about those with negative tests or who have had the virus before? 

One major concern among our readers in our poll on the topic was whether people who were unable to have the vaccine would be punished, i.e. restricted from travelling and taking part in other activities. 

The pass will include those who have been vaccinated, those who have recovered and those who have tested negative. 

People who have recovered from the virus will have their status displayed for 180 days (six months). Those who have tested negative will have their status displayed for 72 hours, the government confirmed on Friday. 

People who have been vaccinated will be deemed to be immune from the virus for 12 months, extended from six months by the government on June 15th. 

The EU proposal for an ‘immunity card’ includes those who have been fully vaccinated as well as people who have had the virus recently and who have had a negative test. 

"With this digital certificate we aim to help member states reinstate the freedom of movement in a safe, responsible and trusted manner," European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said when announcing the plan. 

It will show "whether the person has either been vaccinated, or has a recent negative test, or has recovered from Covid, and thus has antibodies."

Swiss authorities confirmed in late April that this would likely be the same with the Swiss immunity card. 

Therefore, it is likely that the immunity certificate will be for people in one or more of the three categories. 

How will it protect my data? 

This has been a major concern among both government and citizens. 

While government wants to ensure that the data is correct and that people cannot fake or forge the passes, citizens have expressed concerns that their data may not be safe. 

The Federal Council has promised to adhere to data protection rules, although the way they plan to do that has not been specified. 

One possible solution is to make sure that the QR code operates in an anonymous manner, i.e. that when it is scanned it does not reveal any information about the person, only that they have immunity to the virus. 

As reported by Switzerland’s Watson news agency on May 20th, the Federal Council has yet to indicate the specifics of its plan to adhere to data rules. 

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The Local 2021/06/07 12:59

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