Health pass or vaccine pass: Europe eyes tighter Covid control measures

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With the Omicron variant spreading rapidly in Europe, the French government is looking to transform its Covid-19 health pass into a vaccine pass. The new measures would limit access to certain public places only to those who show proof of vaccination or recovery from the illness. This system has already been applied in several European countries – but it has sparked controversies….

The Covid-19 health pass was introduced in France in early June to “help French people return to a normal life while minimising the risks of contamination”. The passes – a prerequisite to access cafés, bars, restaurants, theatres and even long-distance transport – can be obtained if people prove they have been vaccinated or provide a negative test. But that could change.

Under a new system proposed by the French government, presenting a negative Covid-19 test, done within a 24-hour period, will no longer meet the health pass criteria. Only people showing proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19 would be able to have the pass. This reform, which the government hopes will be approved and implemented by mid-January, is already being tested in several European countries including Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic.

Germany: From ‘3G’ to ‘2G’ models

On November 18, the then German chancellor Angela Merkel announced a tightening of health measures to combat Covid-19 more effectively and reduce the pressure on hospitals. Germany introduced the 2G rule, for those who have been vaccinated (“geimpfte”) or those who have recovered (“genesene”) from the illness.

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But this rule was not applied uniformly across the country. Each region had to use it as soon as the hospitalisation threshold exceeded three Covid-19 patients per 100,000 inhabitants.

When the hospitalisation rate exceeds six patients per 100,000 inhabitants, an even more restrictive approach is applied: 2G+, which requires an antigenic test taken less than 24 hours or a negative PCR done less than 48 hours in addition to the proof of vaccination or recovery. This system applies for accessing restaurants, bars, hotels, cultural activities and sports facilities.

The 3G rule, which requires proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test (“getestet”) done in the last 24 hours, applies to the workplace.

Austria, Estonia, Czech Republic: A national vaccine pass

Austria has applied strict sanitary measures since a surge forced the country into lockdown measures in late November.

Since December 12, when the lifting of the lockdown started, the 2G rule has been applied nationwide. Only people who are vaccinated or have recovered within the last six months can visit restaurants, hotels, shops and access community centres and sports halls. The FFP2 masks, which offer superior protection, are also mandatory in such places.

As in Germany, people without a valid 2G certificate can still go to work, provided they present a negative test. For the rest, they are obliged to stay at home except in exceptional cases (essential purchases, family obligations, health emergency, etc.).

Several European countries, including Estonia, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Ireland and Malta, have also opted for a national vaccine pass. It should be noted that this is required from the age of 12 in some countries (Malta and Estonia), 15 (Austria) or sometimes only after the age of 18 (Germany).

Contested measure

Since the introduction of the 2G system in Germany, protests against the new system have erupted across the country with demonstrators claiming the new rules curtail individual freedom. Some protests, such as the December 18 demonstrations in Hamburg and Düsseldorf, gathered several thousand people.

While opposition to the health measures is a reality in Germany, FRANCE 24 correspondent Emmanuelle Chaze notes that it does not reflect the country’s majority opinion. “Of course, this measure is a source of frustration after two years of pandemic…but when Germans are questioned, a vast majority support the government's measures. A third of Germans would even like to see these measures go further,” she explained.

In Austria, too, the tough measures implemented by the government have sparked public anger, with tens of thousands staging demonstrations in Vienna in mid-December.

Although this opposition is a minority, it has now been unified into a political party: the ‘Menschen Freiheit Grundrechte MFG (Human, Freedom, Fundamental Rights). Created in February 2021 in reaction to the health measures, it has since managed to win seats in regional elections.

This article was translated from the original in French.

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