Society 22/11/2021

Government considering extending use of covid pass

Catalan Government discusses whether to ask High Court for extension of covid pass mandate

3 min
Sala Apolo asking for the Covid certificate to access its premises

BarcelonaIn just one week, there has been a 57% increase in new covid diagnoses in Catalonia, with new hospital admissions going up by a third. The curve of the sixth wave is beginning to take shape, but if it finally does shoot up, its effects are expected to be much milder than in previous waves. This would be thanks to vaccination, which has reached 74.8% of the population. "We are at a medium level of concern: the scenario after the summer with small outbreaks has changed and cases are growing in a generalized, but moderate way," explains the physicist of the Computational Biology and Complex Systems Group (Biocomsc), Clara Prats. However, the experts consulted warn that we cannot rely on vaccination –which does not prevent contagion– and that we must take extreme precautions to prevent the surge from getting out of control. "We have to be psychologically prepared to take steps backwards, but now we still have time for less harmful options than resorting to the closure of sectors or lockdowns. The first is to extend the use of the covid certificate," says Salvador Macip, a doctor and researcher at the University of Leicester .

The Generalitat is considering applying to Catalonia High Court to extend the use of the covid pass – a QR code that shows you have been vaccinated, recovered or tested negative – to access non-essential activities that take place in enclosed spaces and are considered a risk for contagion. Several spokespeople for the Department of Health are in favour of applying it to curb transmission in bars and restaurants, perhaps also in theatres and cinemas, as is already the case in nightclubs. Catalan Health minister Josep Maria Argimon floated the idea of the measure coming into force in the first weekend of December, to coincide with the bank holidays on December 6 and 8. It would be the first toughening of restrictions in the last two months, after the summer wave forced a return to harsher restrictions throughout the country.

ARA has been able to confirm that the Government's scientific advisory committee on covid has endorsed the proposal, which now has to be discussed within the government, which meets on Tuesday. However, is there any guarantee that the covid passport can curb the surge in infections? Experts stress that this tool has to be understood as a layer of protection against the virus, along with mask use, especially in enclosed spaces, but not as an escape valve for large crowds in enclosed spaces. But it is also true that applying it does not seem a restriction, or at least it is more subtle, because it affects only the unvaccinated, who are few compared to the immunized.

The example of Denmark

The forecast for Catalonia in the coming weeks is of growth: the rate of contagion (Rt), which indicates whether the pandemic is expanding when it exceeds the value of 1, stood at 1.4 last Friday. "We must be very clear that, although the passport is necessary, it will not be the definitive solution. It does not mean in a few weeks we will not need more measures," explains Macip. Prats points out that if the incidence is low, "softer" measures can be adopted, but the longer they are delayed "the harder it will be to lower the curve". "Covid pass could be convenient in a situation of incidence as the current one to win a few weeks. But, to go to the other extreme, Germany or Austria – which have had to impose very tough restrictions, such as general lockdown or compulsory vaccination – could not fix the situation without aggressive strategies," he says.

At the moment, Prats recalls that the only country comparable to Catalonia that has deployed a strategy using the covid pass in a similar way is Denmark. "It has a similar vaccination rate (75.9%) and about ten days ago brought back covid passes for leisure and catering activities. We follow their data very closely because we are on the same path, but somewhat later," Prats adds. If it works there, she admits, it could be a good indicator.

In addition, the certificate would also have a beneficial side effect: to encourage vaccination. "There are a few recalcitrant people who surely we will not convince in any way, but there are still some doubtful people we can reach," says Macip.

Court overturns mandatory covid pass in Basque Country

Catalonia is not the only territory of the state that wants to opt for this strategy to curb the advance of contagions without resorting to tougher restrictions. The Basque High Court has rejected a requirement for covid passes to be shown in order to access nightclubs and restaurants seating over 50 people, despite cumulative incidence having reached 300 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, twice as high as in Catalonia (145).

Navarra, Aragon and La Rioja still await High Court decisions while Galicia, which already demands a covid pass for leisure activities and restoration since the summer, has extended the mandate to hospitals. In addition, the Valencian Country will ask "in the coming days" to expand its use in "enclosed spaces".