Should the covid certificate be applied in Catalonia?

Different factors, such as the level of scepticism and propagation rates, could influence the final decision

4 min
An officer asks three tourists for their health passports at the entrance to the Louvre museum in Paris.

BarcelonaDifferent countries, such as France, Italy and Portugal, have started to ask for the covid certificate, also called covid passport -which certifies the complete vaccination schedule or a recent negative test-, to enter some areas. Catalonia, for the moment, has ruled it out. "It has not yet been possible to vaccinate everyone"; argued the Catalan Minister of Health, Josep Maria Argimon, at the opening ceremony of the Catalan Summer University (UCE) in Prades. But soon all Catalans over the age of 12 will have had the opportunity to be immunised with the full vaccination schedule and, therefore, the covid certificate will no longer discriminate against those who until now have not had access to the vaccines. "A few months ago it was unfair, but now everyone can be vaccinated and the debate has changed: it would not be unreasonable to apply some kind of restriction for those who are not immunised", says Salvador Macip, a doctor and professor of health sciences at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (Open University of Catalonia, UOC).

There are different factors that may influence the decision to incorporate the use of the covid certificate in Catalonia, such as the rates of spread of the virus and the level of saturation of hospitals. "Now there is a certain relaxation, perhaps we have a hot autumn and October could be a good time to restrict access to unvaccinated people", said Macip, who believes that the covid certificate can be a good "temporary" measure at times when the virus is shot. It can also be used with the aim of pushing skeptics to vaccination points, as France has done.

In fact, one of the reasons why the president of the French republic, Emmanuel Macron, restricted access to different venues to those who are not immunised is because France is one of the European states with the most sceptics and anti-vaccinationists, and the Elysée was afraid that the rate of vaccination would stagnate. Macron's gambit succeeded, and on the same day that he announced the obligation to present the covid passport to enter cinemas, theatres, bars and restaurants, among other places, a million people made an appointment to be vaccinated and, during that week alone, four million more.

In Catalonia the level of scepticism and denialism has nothing to do with that of France, but this summer the Health Dpt has not given as many vaccines as it would have liked. "Spain is one of the most vaccinated countries in the world and we are only starting to see scepticism now, with young people and adolescents", says Macip. Without going any further, as Argimon explained in the UCE, the second week of August only about 315,000 vaccines were administered of the 600,000 that arrived. In addition, with the delta variant, it is estimated that to achieve herd immunity, it is necessary to reach at least 90% herd immunity, if it can be reached at all.

In any case, almost all Catalans will have to be convinced so that the vaccines have the maximum effect. "Perhaps after the holidays the pace of vaccination is accelerated, we will have to see and do a lot of pedagogy. You have to exhaust all avenues before forcing anyone to anything", says Macip. However, it is certain that covid cannot be eliminated if access to vaccines is not universalised. "This is why it's called a pandemic and we won't get out of this if we don't show solidarity", stressed the Health Minister at the UCE. "Of course, the country that is more vaccinated can be more relaxed, but it is a global problem and, if it is not solved on a global scale, new variants may emerge, as happened in India", Macip recalls.

Rights and freedoms

Beyond the epidemiological debate, the covid certificate is also a thorny issue in terms of rights and freedoms. The courts have overturned what different autonomous communities in Spain asked for, such as Galicia, Andalusia, the Canary Islands, Melilla and Cantabria, because they have considered that it is a violation of privacy, it is discriminatory against those who do not want to be vaccinated or is not sufficiently well justified. The professor of constitutional law at the University of Barcelona (UB) Xavier Arbós considers that the right to privacy is not violated. "If we ask for the criminal records of people who work with children, why should we discard the covid certificate", he asks. In any case, he points out that although it would not violate a fundamental right, "because from the citizens' point of view going to certain establishments, such as a concert or a club, is not a fundamental right", it would violate a constitutional one: the freedom of enterprise. Even so, he believes that the courts should be able to allow it "if the restrictions are well justified and proportional". In the same way, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of the Balearic Islands Joan Oliver Araujo recalls that "all rights are limited among themselves" and believes that "it would be possible to limit some rights of those who refuse to vaccinate to avoid negative consequences for all". On the other hand, the professor of procedural law at the UB Jordi Nieva Fenoll, although he does not believe that the covid certificate can violate fundamental rights very "aggressively", fears that in the future this "way of doing" can be "applied to many other diseases, also genetic, which are considered punctually dangerous in some places".

The nightlife sector is one of those that has been most affected by the pandemic and would welcome the application of the covid certificate. The secretary general of the Catalan Federation of Associations of Musical Recreational Activities, Joaquim Boadas, assures that any measure that allows to reopen is "good", and the president of the Association of Concert Halls of Catalonia, Carmen Zapata, believes that it would be "the only way to return to an activity similar to that of 2019". On the other hand, according to the ACN, the hospitality sector is divided: the Barcelona Restaurant Guild believes that it would allow them to better cope with future waves, while the Barcelona Hotel Guild bets on alternative measures that do not imply businesses having to control people. Along these lines, UOC economics professor Pablo Díaz Luque believes that the certificate, at first, "may pose some logistical challenges", but in the long term "it would have a positive impact on the economy", as it would kill two birds with one stone: "It would prevent closures and encourage vaccination".