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COVID-19 CERTIFICATE

Why Switzerland’s Covid certificate is ‘not discriminatory’

A number of rallies have taken place in Switzerland in recent weeks, with thousands of protestors arguing that the Covid certificate requirement is discriminatory. According to legal experts however, it is not.

These anti-vaxxers in Bern believe they are discriminated against.
A woman holds a placard reading "All together for freedom" during a protest against covid certificate and vaccination on September 23, 2021 in Bern. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Since September 13th, the Covid certificate showing vaccination, recovery from coronavirus, or a recent negative test is required to access bars, restaurants, and other indoor venues such as universities.

The government introduced this measure in an effort to curb the number of Covid-related hospital admissions, which climbed during the summer, threatening to overburden intensive care units.

The measure remains highly controversial, with many in Switzerland claiming it violates their fundamental rights and discriminates against those who don’t wish to be vaccinated.

However, such arguments don’t carry much weight, according to Dario Meili, a researcher on inequality and discrimination at the Center for Development and Cooperation at ETH, a public university in Zurich.

“The certificate obligation to access certain places is not discriminatory because one can freely choose to be vaccinated or not”, Meili wrote in a report published on the university website and in Swiss media. He did, however, concede, that it leads to unequal treatment.

Meili defined discrimination as “acts, practices or measures which disadvantage people because of their membership of a certain social group”, based on gender, ethnicity or religious belief.

However, this is not the case for the certificate.

The certificate is also consistent with the Swiss Constitution, Meili writes, as the Constitution guarantees the preponderance of the public interest and the protection of the fundamental rights of third parties, he wrote.

To prove this point, Meili cited the example of a smoking ban in restaurants. The aim is to protect the health of non-smoking customers and staff rather than punish smokers. In this context — as with vaccines —  the freedom to light a cigarette is less important than the right of others to be healthy. 

He also cited another example: the vaccination against yellow fever in tropical countries, where public health takes precedence over the individual freedom of tourists.

Meili noted, too, that comparisons some Swiss anti-vaxers have made between the “certificate discrimination” and apartheid in South Africa or the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany are “not only absurd, but they also weaken the concept of discrimination and erode the principles for tackling current injustices”.

All in all, the certificate doesn’t prevent the unvaccinated people from accessing basic services, such as shopping or using public transportation, he said. Going to restaurants, on the other hand, is not an essential activity.

“Opponents of the certificate, who demand unrestricted fundamental rights, forget that their freedom to go everywhere without a certificate affects the rights of others”, he pointed out.

He quoted Daniel Koch, the former head of the Federal Office of Public Health, who said that “Everyone has the right to take the risk of becoming ill. But no one has the right to infect others”.

READ MORE: Canton-by-canton: How visitors can get Switzerland’s Covid certificate

READ MORE: Travel: Do you need a Covid certificate to enter Switzerland?

Member comments

  1. While not many, there is a number of arguments supporting the discriminatory view of the rules recently implemented around this certificate. There were relevant discussions at the beginning of the present year around the ethics behind such kind of rules. I think it is worth not to forget those ethical controversies even if medically we need to justify now imposing a certificate.

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TRAVEL NEWS

EU extends Covid travel certificates until 2023 but what does this mean for travellers?

The EU has announced that its Covid travel certificate will be extended until 2023. Claudia Delpero looks at what this mean if you have a trip planned this year.

EU extends Covid travel certificates until 2023 but what does this mean for travellers?

Cleaning up the phone and thinking of getting rid of that Covid app? Just wait a minute. 

The European Union has decided to extend the use of EU Covid certificates by one year, until June 30th 2023. 

The European Commission first made the proposal in February as the virus, and the Omicron variant in particular, was continuing to spread in Europe. At that point it was “not possible to determine the impact of a possible increase in infections in the second half of 2022 or of the emergence of new variants,” the Commission said. 

Now tourism is taking off again, while Covid cases are on the rise in several European countries.

So the EU has taken action to ensure that travellers can continue using the so-called ‘digital green certificates’ in case new restrictions are put in place after their initial deadline of June 30th, 2022. 

What is the EU ‘digital green certificate’?

If you have travelled within the EU in the last year, you have probably already used it.

On 1st July 2021, EU countries started to introduce the ‘digital green certificate’, a Covid pass designed by the European Commission to facilitate travel between EU member states following months of restrictions.

It can be issued to EU citizens and residents who have been vaccinated against Covid, have tested negative or have recovered from the virus, as a proof of their health status. 

Although it’s called a certificate, it isn’t a separate document, it’s just a way of recognising all EU countries’ national health pass schemes.

It consists of a QR code displayed on a device or printed.

So if you live in an EU country, the QR code issued when you were vaccinated or tested can be scanned and recognised by all other EU countries – you can show the code either on a paper certificate or on your country’s health pass app eg TousAntiCovid if you’re in France or the green pass in Italy. 

Codes are recognised in all EU 27 member states, as well as in 40 non-EU countries that have joined the scheme, including the UK – full list here.

What does the extension of certificates mean? 

In practice, the legal extension of the EU Covid pass does not mean much if EU countries do not impose any restrictions.

It’s important to point out that each country within the EU decides on its own rules for entry – requiring proof of vaccination, negative tests etc so you should check with your country of destination.

All the EU certificate does is provide an easy way for countries to recognise each others’ certificates.

At present travel within the EU is fairly relaxed, with most countries only requiring negative tests for unvaccinated people, but the certificate will become more relevant again if countries impose new measures to curb the spread of the virus. 

According to the latest data by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, countries such as France, Portugal and parts of Italy and Austria are in the red again. 

The EU legislation on the certificate neither prescribes nor prohibits such measures, but makes sure that all certificate holders are treated in the same way in any participating country. 

The EU certificate can also be used for access to venues such as bars and restaurants if countries decided to re-impose health or vaccines passes on a domestic basis.

So nothing changes?

In fact, the legislation introduces some changes to the current certificates. These include the clarification that passes issued after vaccination should reflect all doses administered, regardless of the member state where the inoculation occurred. This followed complaints of certificates indicating an incorrect number of vaccine doses when these were received in different countries.

In addition, new rules allow the possibility to issue a certificate of recovery following an antigen test and extend the range of uthorised antigen tests to qualify for the green pass. 

To support the development and study of vaccines against Covid, it will also be possible to issue vaccination certificates to people participating in clinical trials.

At the insistence of the European Parliament, the Commission will have to publish an assessment of the situation by December 31st 2022 and propose to repeal or maintain the certificate accordingly. So, while it is extended for a year, the certificate could be discontinued earlier if it will no longer be consider necessary. 

The European parliament rapporteur, Spanish MEP Juan Fernando López Aguilar, said: “The lack of coordination from EU governments on travel brought chaos and disruption to the lives of millions of Europeans that simply wanted to move freely and safely throughout the EU.

“We sincerely hope that the worst of the pandemic is far behind us and we do not want Covid certificates in place a day longer than necessary.”

Vaccination requirements for the certificate

An EU certificate can be issued to a person vaccinated with any type of vaccine, but many countries accept only EMA-approved vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Novavax, Valneva and Janssen) – if you have been vaccinated with another vaccine, you should check the rules on the country you are travelling to.  

Certificates remain valid for 9 months (270) days following a complete vaccination cycle – so if you had your vaccine more than nine months ago you will need a booster in order to be considered fully vaccinated.

There is no requirement for a second booster, so if you have had a booster you remain ‘fully vaccinated’ even if your booster was administered more than 9 months ago. 

As of 1st March 2022, EU countries had issued almost 1.2 billion EU Covid certificates, of which 1.15 billion following vaccination, 511 million as a result of tests and 55 million after recovery from the virus. 

France, Italy, Germany, Denmark and Austria are the countries that have issued the largest number of EU Covid certificates. 

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