José Luis was infected by coronavirus five weeks ago. With one dose of the vaccine in place, he had some symptoms and the diagnosis was confirmed at his health centre in the Community of Madrid with an antigen test. Now recovered, he has tried unsuccessfully to download the COVID certificate: “In the application of the virtual health card only tells me that I do not meet the criteria”. His case is not unique.
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People who have had an antigen test instead of a PCR cannot apply for the EU Digital COVID Certificate, the so-called ‘COVID passport’, which allows travel within the European Union and some parts of Spain. In order to obtain the certificate, the person applying for it is required to have been vaccinated against COVID-19, to have “tested negative”, or to have passed the disease. The problem comes when a person has been infected by coronavirus but in their autonomous community they are not offered the possibility of diagnosis by PCR. In this case, in order to obtain the European accreditation, they are not considered to have passed the disease. In addition, other people say that they cannot be vaccinated either because they have to wait six months, although in some communities they are already reducing this period.
“It leaves us in limbo”.
Some Spanish cities required this certificate for activities such as nightlife or hospitality, but after rulings against requiring the document in four autonomous communities – Andalusia, Cantabria, Canary Islands and Galicia – and Melilla, the ‘COVID passport’ only remains in force in the Balearic Islands. However, it is still necessary to be able to move around the European Union. This becomes a major inconvenience for people like José Luis, who has to leave Spain: “It’s not that I want to go to the beach on holiday, that’s not the problem, it’s that for work I will have to travel around Europe,” he explains.
He tried to get information and call health centers, the telephone number of his community, and through the website of Madrid. The latter specifiesThe Commission also states that “by consensus, in all the countries of the European Union, this type of certificate is only issued if the COVID-19 has been diagnosed by PCR test. The Community of Madrid does not share this criterion, but is not competent to change it”. This decision, according to the affected resident in Madrid, “leaves us in a limbo in which I am equated to unvaccinated people who have not passed the disease”.
From the telephone helpline they offered him the possibility of making a complaint on the website, while at the health centre they told him that he could try to talk to his doctor so that he could issue a document, different to the EU Digital COVID Certificate, which could serve as proof that he has passed the disease. A similar measure to the one proposed to Cristina, who tested positive for antigens in Catalonia in June and has to travel to Italy in September: “I’ve checked with the consulate and right now what they strictly ask for is the ‘COVID passport’. If the document [issued by her doctor] doesn’t help them, the only solution is for me to do an antigen test or PCR every two days and send the photo to my health centre so that I can have the European QR code available”, says the young woman. In the case of the Catalan community, the vaccination time for people who have already passed the disease has also been reduced from six months to one, which will allow people who are in the same situation as Cristina to download the accreditation.
Júlia Fulquet, administrative of a health center of Catalonia sends complaints of patients affected by this procedure: “Normally one person a day comes”. From her clinic also offer these medical reports, issued by staff of “nursing or medicine. The text indicates that the patient was positive, and that “the quarantine has been passed as it should be”. But Júlia warns that there is no certainty that the certificate of the center can be valid in other countries: “It’s the most we can do,” adds the Catalan administrative, which also relates other similar problems, such as what happens to people who have received only one dose of vaccine for having passed the disease, in which case they appear with incomplete pattern in the European digital document.
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The Ombudsman’s Office has been called “unequal treatment in the right to freedom of movement”.
The Ombudsman, Francisco Fernandez, has also spoken out in this regard. On August 11, he sent a series of recommendations to the Ministry of Health to “improve” the ‘COVID passport’, as well as to “facilitate” obtaining it. In addition, two types of recommendations are proposede complaints. “The Spanish vaccination certificate does not clearly and expressly state that people with a single dose, because they have overcome the disease, or with two doses of different vaccines, have received a full course of vaccination”. And another type of complaint, the same that José Luis and Cristina explain: that “the European Union Regulation does not recognize antigen tests or serological antibody tests to validate a contagion”. This means that it is not possible to “certify recovery” for people who have not undergone PCR.
For the Ombudsman, the situation “may lead to unequal treatment for the exercise of the right to free movement of the persons concerned”, while “the purpose of these certificates is precisely to facilitate travel,” he continues. Therefore, urges the European Commission to recognize these other coronavirus detection tests, and asks the autonomous communities to perform PCR to people who have been positive for antigens, so that these inequalities do not continue to occur in the processing of certificates COVID.