For the second year in a row, the world is spending the holiday season in a situation of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last summer, many Ukrainians had to give up vacations in other countries due to the closed borders. This year, there are more vacation options. Some countries will welcome vaccinated tourists, others will accept only those who tested negative, and some without any conditions whatsoever.
VoxCheck has looked into how Ukrainians could travel this summer, what different countries required of travelers, and whether those having contraindications to vaccination could cross the border.
COVID certificates provide access for those traveling to the EU
Starting July 1, COVID certificates will be issued for EU residents (those legally residing in the EU), namely, the EU Digital COVID Certificate proving that those carrying it have protection against COVID-19. Specifically, traveling within the EU will be possible for those vaccinated against COVID-19, tested negative, or recovered from coronavirus disease. In the latter case, the document can be valid for a maximum of 180 days. The certificate will be required for travel both inside and outside the EU.
On June 1, seven EU countries started issuing such COVID certificates, namely Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Denmark, Poland, Croatia and the Czech Republic. Currently, Iceland and Switzerland also provide their citizens with such documents.
The EU Digital COVID Certificates are free of charge and contain a QR code with a digital signature. If necessary, tourists can obtain them in a paper-based format. According to the European Commission, it took just two months to get the system going. It is possible to verify the digital signatures in the QR-codes of all certificates without processing personal data. The signature keys required for the verification are stored on servers at the national level. And all national servers are connected to a common EU verification system.
Which vaccines are authorized in the European Union?
The following vaccines are currently authorized for use in the European Union as approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA): Comirnaty (Pfizer), Moderna (Spikevax), AstraZeneca (Vaxzevria) and Johnson&Johnson. The Member States can also decide for themselves on the use of vaccines approved for emergency use by the WHO but not yet approved by the EU.
According to the chief sanitary doctor of Ukraine, Ihor Kuzin, once the WHO officially approves a vaccine, it takes the European Union about a month to authorize it (it was the case with vaccines used currently in the EU). However, the two AstraZeneca vaccines approved by the WHO in February – India’s Covishield and South Korea’s SKBio – have not yet been approved by the EMA, possibly because there was no need to. The Chinese CoronaVac vaccine that is currently used for vaccinations in Ukraine was approved for emergency use by the WHO in early June. This means that the WHO has given assurances to the countries and organizations that the preparation meets international safety and efficacy standards. Prior to that, the vaccine passed phase III clinical trials. Indonesia also gave permission to use this vaccine at the beginning of this year. Hopefully, the AstraZeneca and CoronaVac vaccines will soon be approved by the EU.
However, the registration of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V is delayed by the EMA because Russia missed a deadline for providing the necessary documents. Sputnik V has not yet received final approval from the WHO.
And what about Ukrainians?
Ukraine will also introduce its own certificates and plans to start issuing them in early July. The certificates will contain information not only about vaccinations but also about negative PCR test results or recovery from COVID-19.
Currently, the document is being developed according to the EU and WHO certificates. They will be available in a digital and paper-based format. The digital version will contain a QR code. It will be possible to obtain the paper certificate from healthcare facilities and the digital certificate via the “Diia” app.
The government is also planning to make two versions of the document: internal for domestic use, and external for international travel. The authorities have to approve the rules and procedures for internal COVID certificates. As Deputy Minister of Digital Transformation Oleksiy Vyskub said in a comment for VoxCheck, people might need them to attend mass events, such as concerts.
According to Oleksiy Vyskub, COVID certificates will be part of the Electronic Health Records (EHR) containing a register of patients. When someone is vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19, a respective entry should appear in the EHR. This database will feed information to the “Diia”.
Starting from July, the Ukrainian COVID Certificate is to be synchronized with the EU Certificate.
Meanwhile, four countries – Hungary, Moldova, Turkey and Georgia – have already agreed to accept the document’s paper version.
International Certificate of Vaccination
With COVID certificates being under development, Ukrainians can present another document at the border crossing – namely, the International Certificate of Vaccination. It has been approved and can be obtained if you have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
An International Certificate of Vaccination can be obtained immediately after receiving the second shot from a medical facility connected to the Electronic Health Records or from a family doctor. If the need for the certificate arises later, after being fully vaccinated, it should be requested from a family doctor. The certificate is issued only in paper form and is valid for one year, but its term can be extended. The document contains personal data, information about the vaccine, vaccination date and the patient’s or the designated person’s signature. The certificate is issued in English or French, with Ukrainian translation.
As the Ministry of Health explains, if someone has absolute contraindications to vaccination against COVID-19, then a written explanation is provided instead of a certificate at the patient’s request in Ukrainian and/or English listing reasons for such a decision.
It should be recalled that four vaccines are being used or are planned to be used in Ukraine: the German-American Pfizer, AstraZeneca (Indian Covishield and Korean SKBio), and CoronaVac from the Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech. All of them are approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization. Ukraine has also arranged for the shipment of 15 million doses of the American Novavax vaccine starting in July this year. Detailed instructions on how to get vaccinated against COVID-19 can be found in our latest vaccine digest.
What kind of difficulties can be encountered with COVID certificates?
In a comment for VoxCheck, Oleksiy Vyskub said that sometimes there are problems with the medical data in Ukraine. For example, not all Ukrainians who have been vaccinated are registered in the EHR yet – only 90% of them to date.
Although international certificates should be available in Ukraine in July 2021, it all depends on when the EU provides a clear list of requirements for these documents.
Only when Ukrainian certificates meet these requirements they will be accepted in the European Union.
Among the issues remaining unresolved are vaccines themselves, namely, whether all the vaccines administered to Ukrainians are approved by the EU. The European Union wants to allow entry if the tourists receive the recommended vaccine doses no later than two weeks before the trip. At the same time, the vaccine listed in the COVID certificate must be approved by the EU. Currently, only Pfizer meets this requirement in Ukraine.
Where can Ukrainian tourists go?
Greece opened its borders on May 14. To enter the country, travelers will need to fill out the PLF (Passenger Locator Form) electronically providing their contact information and a certificate of vaccination, a negative PCR test result, or a certificate of recovery from the disease. Children under five y.o. can enter the country without a PCR test or vaccination certificate.
France began receiving foreign tourists on June 9. Entry conditions depend on the “color” of the country from which the travelers will arrive, as well as on whether they have received a COVID-19 vaccine. The French government has divided the world on the map into three zones: green, orange and red.
Ukraine is in the orange zone. Therefore, to enter France, you must be vaccinated for at least 14 days before arrival. Ukrainians will also be required to present a negative PCR test result no later than 72 hours before the trip or an antigen test no later than 48 hours. Unvaccinated people can be admitted only for a compelling reason, but still with the test results.
The conditions for tourists from the green zone countries are relatively easier. Upon arrival, they must show a vaccination certificate or a negative PCR test result. However, the citizens of the “red” zone countries will be able to get to France with a test only for an important reason, even if they have been fully vaccinated.
Countries such as Albania, Bulgaria, Egypt, Serbia, the United States, and Montenegro currently allow tourists to enter without any restrictions or testing. In Tunisia, Turkey and Croatia, a negative PCR test result is required upon arrival and/or a mandatory quarantine or self-isolation. Cyprus opened its borders to Ukrainians in April and Georgia in March under the same conditions.
Detailed and up-to-date information about the procedure for entering any country in the world can be found on the portal of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have no relevant affiliations