Spain pursuing Covid vaccine passport scheme to allow return of tourists - what we know so far

Tuesday, 9th March 2021, 11:30 am
Updated Tuesday, 9th March 2021, 11:39 am
Spain's tourism minister has outlined plans to introduce a vaccine passport pilot scheme (Photo: Shutterstock)
Spain's tourism minister has outlined plans to introduce a vaccine passport pilot scheme (Photo: Shutterstock)

Holidays to Spain could soon be open to tourists again following the launch of a Covid-19 vaccine passport pilot scheme.

If the scheme proves to be successful, holidaymakers may soon be able to travel to the country once lockdown restrictions permit foreign travel.

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Vaccine passports under consideration

Spain’s tourism minister Maria Reyes Maroto has outlined plans to introduce the vaccine passport pilot scheme in the country, and has confirmed her ministry is pursuing the idea.

The Balearic Islands, which include popular tourist destinations Majorca and Ibiza, have already said they want to be the first to welcome visitors back with the help of vaccine passports.

Regional governors have urged Ms Maroto to allow them to start a pilot scheme for visitors who had been vaccinated at a meeting in Madrid last month.

However, Ms Maroto has not yet confirmed where or when the pilot scheme would start, but she said she wants Spain to be a pioneer in introducing the passports.

She said: “We want to have a wide variety of tools to reactive mobility. All this will enable us to have a clear horizon and hope so we can be more optimistic about the relaunch of international travel.

“We want to be pioneers and we are the most active champions of digital vaccine passports to facilitate international mobility.

Ms Maroto recalled a pilot scheme that was launched in the Balearics last year, involving allowing thousands of German tourists into the islands a week before Spain officially reopened its border to foreign travellers following a three month lockdown.

She explained: “We were pioneers with the Balearic travel corridor by becoming the only country to open during the pandemic, and we’re working on being pioneers again and putting our foot on the accelerator.

“We have created an inter-ministerial commission presided by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to facilitate the use of digital Covid certificates and be able to launch a pilot project to test their efficiency when the pandemic allows us to.”

Ms Maroto made her comments at the presentation of a report on the competitiveness of Spanish sun and sand destinations, and spoke just days after the country's Secretary of State for Tourism, Fernando Valdes, said Spain was willing to consider bilateral agreements and corridors ‘with third countries’ if the vaccine passport scheme doesn’t go ahead.

Mr Valdes said: “The way to allow travel in Europe must be decided at the level of the European Union but if those decisions cannot be taken, we will think of other solutions such as corridors, green corridors with third countries that can help us to restart tourist flows.

“The UK is among the countries with the highest vaccination rates in the world and we aim to have at least 70 per cent of our adult population immune by summer so I’d say to British people, ‘keep open your expectations regarding holidays in Spain. We’re looking forward to welcoming you again.’”

The European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has said she intends to publish draft legislation on 17 March over a ‘pass’ that vaccinated EU citizens could use to travel for work or tourism.

Covid passports still ‘under review’

Cabinet Minister Michael Gove has been tasked with leading a review into the potential use of Covid vaccine passports as part of the road map to easing lockdown.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that a study into the use of vaccine and testing certificates will be one of four reviews conducted as part of easing the current restrictions, and said that the use of vaccine passports for international travel was more than likely.

Some other countries around the world have already started working towards introducing these kinds of measures, with the European Commission announcing on 1 March that it will be submitting a proposal for digital Covid vaccinations to be implemented across the EU.

The Digital Green Pass will provide proof that a person has received a coronavirus jab, alongside test results for those who have not received a vaccine.

In Estonia, the UN’s WHO health agency is working to implement an e-vaccination certificate, also known as a “smart yellow card”, while Denmark is also developing a digital vaccine passport.

Professor Devi Sridhar of Edinburgh University spoke to the Scottish Parliament’s Health Committee about international travel regulations during the pandemic and said that if Covid-19 vaccines significantly reduced transmission of the disease, electronic vaccine passports could help to restart international tourism.

She added that EU countries are already developing plans for a digital green pass, with countries including Spain and Greece keen to welcome visitors again, and said airlines have also collaborated to create an application called CommonPass, which allows passengers to upload medical information, such as test results or vaccination status, and generates a pass in the form of a QR code.

Prof Sridhar said: “I think if these vaccines stop transmission, which they look like they might, we will reach a stage of vaccine passports.

“It’s already being discussed in the EU. We already have countries like Israel introducing green cards domestically, if you actually have gotten vaccinated.

“I think similar to yellow fever, where the WHO has certification if you’ve been vaccinated, we will reach a state where aviation will continue.

“Spain and Greece are really keen on this for their tourism industries.

“You will be allowed to fly and we can have international mobility, but only when people are vaccinated and we have that confirmation that you will not infect others when you travel.”

However, Mr Johnson added that there are “deep and complex issues” that need to be explored before introducing vaccine passports, and the subject is still under review.