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India toughens stand on EU COVID passport


India took issue with the European Union’s plans to institute a “green pass” from July 1, with government sources warning that India will introduce a “reciprocal policy” only allowing ease of travel for those European countries that recognise Indian vaccines Covishield and Covaxin.


GS-II: International Relations (Important Foreign Policies and Agreements Affecting India’s Interest)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is a Vaccine Passport?
  2. Concerns Raised in Instituting Vaccine Passport
  3. How are countries viewing the concept of Vaccine Passport?
  4. Digital Green Certificates by EU
  5. Controversy of the European Union’s Digital Covid Certificate

What is a Vaccine Passport?

  • Sometimes, vaccine tourism is confused with vaccine passport, which is a more regulated practice gaining currency around the world.
  • A vaccine passport is an e-certificate that stores and records jabs and Covid-19 test status.
  • The idea is modelled on the proof of vaccination that several countries required even before the pandemic.
  • Function of Vaccine Passports:
    • Will digitise vaccination records across countries.
    • Supposed to function as proof that the holder has been vaccinated against Covid-19 and is, therefore, safe.
  • The primary benefit will be to the tourism and the hospitality industries, which are both seen as being at the heart of Covid-19 spread and are the worst hit by the pandemic.
  • The international air travel, which suffered massively because of the outbreak.

Concerns Raised in Instituting Vaccine Passport

  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) is against the introduction of Covid-19 vaccination proofs as a requirement for international travel. There are still critical unknown facts regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission.
  • The major difficulty in implementation will be the lack of uniformity across jurisdictions in requirement and issuance of proofs of vaccination.
  • Preferential vaccination of travellers could result in inadequate supplies of vaccines for priority populations considered at high risk of severe Covid-19 disease.
  • Introducing a requirement of vaccination as a condition for travel has the potential to hinder equitable global access to a limited vaccine supply and would be unlikely to maximize the benefits of vaccination for individual societies and overall global health.
  • Experts argue that vaccine passports, in any form, might make travel inequitable. Adoption of these digital passports can perpetuate discrimination and inequality, increasing the divide between socioeconomic groups.
  • Rich countries that have already bought millions of doses from pharmaceutical companies are ahead in the race. The poorer nations may have to wait for months, if not years, to start inoculations. This means that if vaccine passports become a norm, then these lower-income nations will lose out on the advantage. It will lead to exclusion of the younger generation who would be last in line to be vaccinated.
  • These are mainly digital certificates that are accessed by a particular service provider to check for proof of vaccination, there is a possibility that they would be used by authorities to track the movement of their holders.

How are countries viewing the concept of Vaccine Passport?

  • In the EU and across the world, the tourism industry has been severely impacted due to the spread of the disease. Many countries have, therefore, been contemplating digital certificates or passports that will be proof that a person has been vaccinated or has recovered from COVID-19.
  • Israel became the first country to issue certificates called “vaccine passports” that will allow vaccinated individuals to use some facilities and attend events.
  • Denmark also said that it was in the process of rolling out digital passports that would act as proof for those individuals who have been vaccinated.
  • Even so, as early as May 2020, countries such as Chile had proposed “release certificates” meant for those who had recovered from COVID-19.

Digital Green Certificates by EU

  • The European Union is creating a Digital Green Certificate to facilitate the safe and free movement of citizens within the European Union (EU) amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • A Digital Green Certificate is proof that a person has either been vaccinated against COVID-19, has received a negative test result or has recovered from COVID-19.
  • The key features of the certificate are that it will be in digital or paper format complete with a QR code and will be free of charge.
  • The certificate can be issued by authorities, including hospitals, testing centres and health authorities.
  • All EU citizens or third-country nationals who are legally staying in the EU will be able to use these digital certificates and thereby will be exempted from free movement restrictions.

Controversy of the European Union’s Digital Covid Certificate

  • India’s External Affairs Minister indicated that he raised the issue of possible restrictions on Indian travellers in the EU if they don’t have one of four vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), that include the Europe made Astra Zeneca vaccine but not the Indian made Serum Institute of India’s (SII) Covishield or Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin.
  • India has also conveyed EU Member States that India will institute a reciprocal policy for recognition of the EU Digital Covid Certificate.
  • The African Union had also issued a letter of protest over the EU proposal saying that it promoted “inequality” for those from India and “lower-income” countries for whom the Covishield vaccine was the “backbone” of the international COVAX alliance programme.
  • The EU had also explained that SII had not applied for the requisite permissions with the EMA, and had promised to consider its case as soon as it applied.
  • The government’s stand is especially significant since while Covishield has received World Health Organization authorisation, Covaxin is yet to be cleared by the global health body.

-Source: The Hindu

December 2023