Q&A: Does the new digital Covid cert mean I can finally go on holiday?

The new cert launches next Monday. What does it mean for travel?

Are we there yet?
Nearly. Vaccinated people will begin to receive digital Covid certificates for travel in the European Union from Monday as part of an EU-wide Digital Covid Certificate (DCC) scheme.

Exciting! Does that mean the world will suddenly open up to me again?
No. But at least some of it will be easier to get to within the next couple of weeks. There will still be significant restrictions on travel for some time to come, mind you.

What do you mean?
For a start, the system, as it stands, applies to countries in the EU only or those closely aligned with it. And it will only allow relatively unrestricted travel for people who have been fully vaccinated, those who can prove they have recovered from Covid-19 within the past six months, or people who can produce a negative Covid-19 test within a particular timeframe.

Who is in charge of the scheme in Ireland?
Oh, everyone. The project has been led by the Department of the Taoiseach with vaccine data provided by the Health Service Executive. There has been public health input from the Department of Health. And the whole thing is to be validated by the Department of Justice.


So with that many people involved it will all work very smoothly, right?
Ha! We are being prepared for some hiccups along the way. The Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has already said there could be "teething problems" and delays. He has advised people travelling to allow plenty of time. 
"Do your planning," he told RTÉ radio, adding that people would be dealing with two sets of rules – in Ireland and in the country to which they were travelling.

How much will the cert cost?
It will be free of charge, as under EU rules it should be easily available to everyone.

What information will be stored on the Covid certificate?
It will contain only the necessary information such as name, date of birth, date of issuance, relevant information about vaccines, tests or recovery and a unique identifier. This data remains on the certificate and is not stored or retained when a certificate is verified in another member state.

Okay, so how will I get my cert?
If you have been fully vaccinated then you should receive it in the post or via email if they have your email address.

By post? A letter? Old school. What will it say?
It will have a barcode or QR code that will confirm your vaccination status. An app will be able to scan and verify the codes and a call centre will be on hand to deal with queries.

Does it matter where I got my vaccine?
Yes and no. People who got the jab at a HSE vaccination centre are probably the least complicated cohort. All of the details – including email addresses – were directly inputted into the central system. GPs have been uploading their patient vaccination data to that system too but the HSE ransomware attack saw the links between surgeries and the HSE computer network shut for weeks earlier in the process. All the links have been reestablished but there may be some delays there. People vaccinated early in the roll-out, either in their own homes or – in the case of healthcare workers – in hospital settings, may have to be manually added to the list.

So when will the system be fully operational?
Under the EU-wide agreement, the digital pass was due to become operational on July 1st. Ireland is the only country not operating it yet but the system should be up and running by July 19th, the same day that international travel – which currently requires a quarantine period – will fully reopen.

Is all this stuff now set in stone?
No. Everything is dependent on the public health situation at the time, so a lot will depend on how the vaccine programme is going and how variants are spreading both at home and abroad.

So what is the public health advice when it comes to travel now?
The public health advice remains not to travel abroad for non-essential reasons. According to a report in this paper, Government is likely to say that while legally you do not have to be vaccinated to travel after July 19th, the health advice will be not to.

How many certs are likely to be issued?
About 1.8 million vaccine certificates will be sent out by post or email next week.

And if I don't have a vaccine yet?
Well if you are one of the 170,000 or so people who have recovered from Covid-19 in the past six months you will also get a travel cert, although you will have to contact a special call centre to get it.

What if I have neither recovered or been jabbed but still want to travel?
Then you will have to pay to get a private PCR test if you want to go abroad and the test will have to be done at an accredited private centre. This is to prevent the public system coming under strain from people seeking tests in order to travel.

Will people who need PCR tests need one going away and one coming home?
It is up to individual countries to determine the specifics. Some countries require a PCR test, some will allow a negative antigen test. Some countries insist on tests for children over six, some don't. You have to follow the rules of the country you are travelling to and not the one you are leaving.

And how much do the tests cost?
It depends. PCR tests cost anywhere between €69 and €150 in this country but the prices in places such as Spain and Portugal are considerably lower and in some cases they can cost as little as €50. Antigen tests cost less again.

Why do tests cost less in other countries?
One reason is that the tourism authorities in some countries are subsidising the cost of the tests in order to boost inward-bound travel during the peak summer months. The Government here is not doing that. The European Commission has also set aside €100 million under the Emergency Support Instrument to buy and distribute more than 20 million rapid antigen tests, and has launched a joint procurement for more than half a billion rapid antigen tests.

I am Irish but live in the UK, can I come home now?
No – or at least not without restrictions. The UK has declined to take part in the digital Covid cert scheme, so there is no alignment of vaccination data. The Government has said it is looking to implement a bespoke system for the Common Travel Area but we're not there yet.

How are we getting on with Covid here now?
According to Taoiseach Micheál Martin, case numbers are increasing thanks to the Delta variant but the number of hospitalisations and intensive care admissions remained stable.

What will travel look like when it starts again?
You may face extra delays at airports in the coming weeks if the DCC passes are not validated online, according to the aviation sector. Eurocontrol, the organisation of EU air navigation authorities, calculates that air travel will have recovered to about 24,000 flights a day – 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels – in Europe by August.

Well, that's good isn't it?
Yes, but Eurocontrol says airports and airlines would struggle to ensure flights leave on time if Covid health checks are not implemented smoothly. With about 2.5 million passengers a day travelling around the EU, airport health checks could add 12 minutes per traveller to check-in times.

So, should I book a holiday overseas for July 19th?
Well, if you are vaccinated then you might be in a position to travel on that day. But it is important to point out that a lot can happen in a couple of weeks, as we all know too well, and there are a lot of things still up in the air.

What about my children? They can't get a vaccine
Under the rules in Ireland, children aged six and under will be allowed to travel with their vaccinated parents or those who meet the other criteria. Children aged between seven and 18 will need a negative PCR test to return to Ireland. Children can also receive a recovery certificate. These certificates could be received by their parents. The European Commission has also proposed that minors travelling with parents should be exempt from quarantine when the parents do not need to undergo quarantine, for example, due to vaccination.