France, Italy, others expand COVID certificate schemes in response to soaring Delta variant cases

As the Delta variant becomes the dominant strain in Europe, several countries are expanding the scope of their COVID certificate programmes in order to contain infections, allow social life and events, and boost vaccination campaigns.

Even though COVID certificates have been long used as mandatory requirements to be allowed into certain premises and events (for example, in Israel and the United Arab Emirates) the current debate has been spurred by French president, Emmanuel Macron.

On 12 July, Macron announced in a televised speech that "the 'health passport' – a QR code or certificate proving that the holder has a negative COVID-19 test, is fully vaccinated or recently recovered from Covid-19 – will be required throughout different establishments in France from August, including bars, restaurants, cafés and shopping centres", wrote France 24.

AS a result, the COVID pass is required to access concerts, festivals, amusement parks and "for all events or places  with more than 50 people" since 21 July as well.

The stunning reversal – as recently as April, Macron had declared that "vaccine passports will never be used to divide the French people", noted the New Statesman – was met with both imitation (from other countries) and fury (from protesters, who repeatedly gathered en masse against the new measures).

After some 100,000 people took to the streets against the new measures, the government has been forced to backtrack some of the initial commitments, "including lowering fines for noncompliance, pushing back deadlines and changing the rules for shopping centers", wrote Politico. A bill enacting the new package has been rushed through the Parliament and approved in just six days.

The international debate on expanding the scope and application of COVID certificates lead countries such as Canada, Australia (which already implements forms of mandatory check-in through QR codes), and the United States (especially New York City) wondering whether to follow suit.

Some in Europe in fact did: Italy launched an expanded plan for its COVID certificate on 22 July. According to the government, a valid "Green Pass" – obtainable after a single dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine, a negative antigenic or PCR test (for 48 hours) or after having recovered from the disease – will be required starting from 6 August to enjoy some activities. Among them: dining at restaurants indoors; attending public events, shows and sports competitions; entering museums and exhibitions, as well as gyms, pools, fitness centres, cultural centres, and casinos. 

The Italian plan was also met with fierce opposition from "no Green Pass" protesters, who filled dozens of piazzas with chants and slogans that compared the new COVID pass rules to apartheid and nazism. Far right politicians in the country strongly opposed the measures, denouncing an "Orwellian society" is being built.

At the same time, Greece has introduced mandatory "proof of vaccination or evidence of recent recovery from COVID-19 from patrons in order to access indoor venues like restaurants, cafes, bars, cinemas, theatres and nightclubs" since 16 July. Managers of such premises will have to check the document by scanning it through a novel app, thus submitting it to a "color-coded system" that checks its validity, writes GTP: "The color green and a check mark indicates completed Covid-19 vaccination or recovery; yellow indicates a negative test result; and red that the document is false or not correct."

Protests already ensued in Greece too, as some 4,000 people gathered outside of the Parliament in Athens to oppose mandatory vaccination, DW reported – some even throwing petrol bombs, according to authorities.

France, Italy, and Greece also mandated COVID-19 vaccination for healthcare workers.

England's domestic COVID passport will be in effect starting from September as well. From then on, wrote the Guardian, "people in England will have to prove they have had both Covid doses to enter nightclubs", as well as for "other venues where large crowds gather". A possible further extension to pubs and other venues was not ruled out by British authorities.

Germany is also said to be considering similar measures, while Israel – possibly the first to both implement such a scheme, as well as the first to "discard" it – is about to reimpose mandatory requirements for its health passport: only the fully vaccinated and recently tested will soon be able to enter venues "such as restaurants, gyms and synagogues", wrote Al Jazeera.

In a world first, Croatia also set a "maximum validity period" for pass holders who wish to enter the country: "According to the government’s announcement, all travellers will be banned from entering the Balkan state without presenting a negative result of the COVID-19 PCR or rapid antigen test if more than 210 days have passed since they took the second dose of any approved vaccine", reported SchengenVisaInfo News.

Vaccination bookings soared both in France and Italy after the new measures were announced.


COVID certificate, Vaccine passports


Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, UK