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EUROPEAN COMMISSION

EU vaccine passports must prevent ‘discrimination’: European Commission

Europeans may be able to travel more freely this summer with a proposed new vaccination passport. But the European Commission urges caution and calls for certificates to be free from 'discrimination'.

EU vaccine passports must prevent 'discrimination': European Commission
(Photo by Damien MEYER / AFP)

The so-called “digital green pass” provides proof that a person has been vaccinated – or test results if they haven’t received their doses yet. The plans have been laid in a bid to open up travel and help flailing economies.

“The aim is to gradually enable them to move safely in the European Union or abroad – for work or tourism,” Commission chief, Ursula von der Leyen, tweeted.

However, in a draft document seen by Reuters, any future certificate must be free from discriminating information, such as whether people have been tested or have recovered.

The digital certificates are eagerly awaited by many countries in Europe, who rely on tourism and are hoping for an opening up this summer.

READ ALSO: Italy approves Covid-tested flights from US to Milan

But the European Commission clashed with some countries, including Germany, which claimed that vaccinations are not mandatory nor available to those who want it.

Angela Merkel told German newspaper Allgemeine Zeitung: “First, it must actually be clearly resolved that vaccinated people are no longer infectious.”

“As long as the number of those who have been vaccinated is still so much smaller than the number who are waiting for vaccination, the state should not treat the two groups differently.”

READ ALSO: ‘Green pass’: European Commission to propose EU-wide vaccine passports for summer

President Macron also voiced concerns about the fairness of vaccine passports for young people at a virtual meeting of the member states.

Contained in the draft document, which aims to “facilitate free movement” during the pandemic, is a clause that states proof of vaccination should not discriminate against those who either refuse or are unable to access the doses, according to Reuters.

Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What does France’s ‘vaccine passport’ trial mean for travel in 2021?

What does this mean for those people who fall into this category? Can they still have a ‘Covid passport?

It’s still not clear and will come down to member states to decide how they enforce such a certificate – whether travel restrictions are lifted for those vaccinated is up to each country.

The news comes as pressure mounts for EU leaders amid criticisms of slow vaccine rollouts – it’s expected more answers come when they will discuss the proposal later in March.

Member comments

  1. It would be wonderful to have access to vaccine, so that we – those of us up sh.&t street – can contribute to the economy again….or at least have access to the Neustarthilfe if we can’t be vaccinated for another 6+ months.

    The situation is fast becoming ridiculous.

    So many people – who receive a monthly salary – are planning their next holidays. They aren’t always following the guidelines because they have nothing to lose (financially) and are selfish (morally).

  2. I respect Macron’s concerns, but my worry is exactly the opposite. I don’t mind seeing a small handful of older people get to move around and go on vacation a few months sooner while I stay at home; after all, the lockdown can be especially hard on them and they have less time to lose. But once most people are vaccinated, then the passport itself is a form a discrimination, and I fear that the few who remain will be marginalized – people like my relatives who have severe allergies and have been advised by medical professionals that it is not safe for them to receive the vaccine. I think we have to step away from the hysteria and remember that a vaccine is meant to establish herd immunity, and that as long as it does, it’s not necessary for every person to be vaccinated. I have travelled extensively in the EU and never once was I asked to prove my history of vaccination against small pox, polio or other diseases much deadlier than COVID19.

  3. Perhaps it would also be a good idea to include prior vaccinations against measles, TB, smallpox etc rather than just Covid-19, on any digital passport. In principle it is a good idea, but needs an element of diplomacy and long-term understanding if it is to really gain traction with the populations of Europe, or anywhere else for that matter.

  4. What about our healthcare privacy? What else can the powers that be demand of us? None of these jabs have been tested long term and we have no way of knowing the long term affects. So many have caused some serious side effects. If you are young and want children, I would be leery of any o9f theses jabs. If you have a history of blood clots in your family, be leery of Astro-Zeneca. I believe all contain aborted fetal tissue. Be informed.

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HEALTH

Reader question: Am I liable for ambulance costs in Austria?

The government passes on the costs for ambulances, but the compulsory health insurance might cover the payments - in some very specific cases.

Reader question: Am I liable for ambulance costs in Austria?

Austria has a health system with compulsory health insurance for its citizens, similar to many of its neighbouring countries. Everyone is insured, either by their employer, themselves, or, in some cases, by the state.

However, the insurance models can get complicated and the “who pays for what” question can result in some costly responses. In the case of an emergency, when an ambulance is called, the professional rescue is made by the government ambulances and rescue service.

The costs are then paid for by the health insurance fund, with 75 per cent of Austrians covered by the Österreichische Gesundheitskasse (ÖGK).

Can the health insurance companies refuse? 

The health insurance companies refuse to cover the costs for four main reasons, according to the City of Vienna: when the person is not insured at the time of the rescue operation, when there is no “medical emergency”, in cases of alcohol or drug abuse, and in case the person is found dead when the emergency services arrive.

READ ALSO: Who to call and what to say in an emergency in Austria

The exceptions are not without controversy, and patient lawyer Sigrid Pilz criticises the “lack of love in the procedure”, according to statements she has given in Austrian media.

There is also very little clarity on what qualifies as a “medical emergency”, and the health insurer says that it will cover costs when the insured person is “unable to talk and cannot use public transport due to their physical or mental condition, even with an accompanying person”.

“Only medical reasons count”, according to the ÖGK website.

Air rescue in Austria

Another significant exception to the insurance coverage concerns air rescue. The ÖGK says that it will cover the costs of domestic transport by aircraft if the patient is in danger of death, and the urgency calls for air transport. Additionally, the medical necessity must be proven by a doctor and recognised by the ÖGK.

The insurance company highlights that this does not include “accidents in the practice of sport and tourism on the mountain” – a not so rare occurrence in the Alpine country.

On its website, ÖGK reiterates that it “recommends taking appropriate precautions. Otherwise, an emergency can quickly become a big financial problem”.

The “appropriate precautions”, according to expert lawyers, would include hiring private insurance.

How much does it cost to call an ambulance?

The fees for emergency rescue are set by the municipal council in Austria. In Vienna, there is a lump payment of €709 for any use of the public rescue service – even if both assistance and transport have been deemed unnecessary.

There is also a €30 fee for each kilometre driven if the assistance is needed outside the city limits.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How freelancers in Austria can pay four times less in social insurance

The fee is valid from the moment an ambulance leaves its station. In practical terms, this means that if somebody faints on the street and a third person calls the ambulance in concern, emergency service will come. Even if the patient wakes up well and does not require assistance, they will receive a €709 bill.

There are several cases of people who called an ambulance after foot injuries, or due to high fever, for example, and as they were not considered “severe enough”, received the payment request.

It is worth mentioning that there are also ways to waive or reduce the fee, including in cases of low income or after direct negotiation with the insurance company.

It is not difficult to find examples, especially among immigrant groups and Austrian media.

In one case, shared on social media, Irina B. was a student in Vienna when she got sick with a high fever and dry cough – before the coronavirus pandemic. She decided to call the emergency ambulance and received a quick checkup at home and the recommendation to “drink a lot of tea”.

“On the day after, I went to my doctor, and he gave me treatment recommendations. I almost forgot about this story, but four months later I received a letter asking me to pay around € 700”, she wrote.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What are Austria’s new rules around sick leave for employees?

She decided to go to the main insurance office with her doctor’s sick note. The ÖGK representative told her to call the general health line 1450 in cases such as hers in the future and waived the payment.

“He said it was my first penalty, and I also suppose the certificate from my doctor really helped”, Irina said.

What should you do to avoid the high ambulance costs?

The best way to avoid ambulance costs is to call the Austrian health line at 1450. The health workers are trained to give advice on the phone.

They can quickly assess whether you need an ambulance or not – they can also call for you immediately.

The health line can also give medical advice if there is no emergency and call a doctor to your house if necessary.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What is Austria’s ‘tick vaccine’ and should you take it?

Whenever travelling, even inside Austria, primarily if you practise winter sports, it is worth considering private insurance with air rescue coverage.

Costs for helicopter rescues could add up to thousands of euros. The compulsory insurers will not cover in most cases.

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