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Why has the Covid health pass for daily affairs been rejected in Spain and not elsewhere in Europe?

Twenty-two European countries require hospitality green passes or similar health passports for citizens and tourists to enter restaurants, bars, museums and more public places. So why is Spain the exception?

Why has the Covid health pass for daily affairs been rejected in Spain and not elsewhere in Europe?
Photo: Cristina Quicler/AFP

Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece and Italy are among the countries in Europe which have – to a greater or lesser extent – introduced covid health pass schemes to control access to the interior of hospitality, sporting and cultural venues. 

But in Spain, the launch of a Digital Covid Certificate to verify that customers and visitors have been vaccinated, tested or recovered from Covid-19 hasn’t managed to take off. 

Regional authorities in four Spanish regions – the Canary Islands, Andalusia, Cantabria and Galicia – have all seen how the introduction of such measures was pushed aside by local judges.

On Wednesday August 18th, Spain’s Supreme Court ruled against the matter of using Spain’s Digital Covid Certificate to access nightlife venues.

This suggests that there will be little point for any of Spain’s 17 regional governments to attempt to use Covid health passes in their territories for any purpose other than travel abroad, and if such measures were introduced, they would only be in force for a matter of days or weeks until a court shelved it.

The reasoning of judges, both regional and national, is that having to prove Covid vaccination, testing or recovery status to enter a bar or visit a museum breaches fundamental rights without having enough of a positive impact on public health.

In the case of the Supreme Court’s latest decision, there wasn’t enough “substantial justification” for the requirement of a health pass in bars and nightclubs across the entire region of Andalusia, seeing it more as a “preventative measure” rather than a necessary action.  

Instead their verdict is that such a measure “restrictively affects basic elements of freedom of movement and the right of assembly,” and that even “a technical report from the General Directorate of Public Health” of Andalusia is just an “opinion that does not allow us to understand the proportionality of said measure”.

Photo: Cesar Manso/AFP

This clashes with the stance of judges in neighbouring France, where the top national court approved the government’s Covid health passports for locals and tourists to enter a variety of establishments, only tweaking the initial conditions.

In Italy, the national government has been able to require Covid health passes to access certain venues without the matter having to go to the constitutional court.

In Germany, restrictions vary between states but proof of Covid testing or vaccination is widely accepted for hospitality customers to be allowed inside establishments.

However, the EU’s three biggest economies have seen thousands of protesters take to the streets to slam the mandatory imposition of these QR Code documents. 

In Austria and Norway, Covid health passes are also considered legal and haven’t been met with much resistance by the public. 

Sweden on the other hand is among the EU countries where Covid health passes for venues haven’t been introduced, with the Scandinavian nation continuing with a more unregulated way of handling the pandemic and the matter of health passports is not even due to appear in court.


But overall Spain stands out for being the country in Europe where the long arm of the law has managed to topple the Covid health pass most often. 

The reason for this? Ever since Spain ended its state of alarm on May 9th there’s been a clear change of stance by the courts. 

The state of alarm justified and protected emergency measures quickly rolled out by regional governments, which crucially didn’t require approval from local or national judges. 

Ever since the loss of this legal protection, high courts in the Valencia region, the Balearics, Catalonia, the Canaries and almost all regions in Spain have scrapped everything from curfews to limits on social gatherings, all under the premise that it’s not constitutional to breach fundamental rights when there’s no longer a state of alarm. 

The special powers that come with a state of emergency may explain why in countries such as Germany and Italy, both of which have extended their state of alarm, authorities haven’t had to jump through too many legal loopholes for Covid pass legislation to be green-lighted.

But as things stand in Spain, judges have the final word on Covid restrictions, something for which two of the main associations representing them consider that the Spanish government has acted “irresponsibly” and not legislated correctly by just ‘passing the buck’ to them.

For the time being, Covid passes, health passports, Covid Digital Certificates or however you prefer to call them, remain a useful document to prove Covid health status for the purpose of travel in the EU, but not for domestic day-to-day matters.


Member comments

  1. So – as an employee with a permanent health condition where the treatment leaves me immuno-compromised, if I catch Covid at work because my employer didn’t insist that people entering the premises were vaccinated, does this mean the responsibility lies with me for working while disabled? With my employer for being foolish enough to employ someone who is disabled? Or with a judiciary who consider the consequences of a potentially deadly infection of the immune-suppressed to be “an opinion that does not allow us to understand the proportionality of said measure”.

    Bear in mind we’re not saying that people be prevented from exercising basic elements of freedom of movement and the right of assembly. Just that they do so responsibly enough to prevent the infection of those of us unfortunate enough to be disabled and unfortunate enough to have to share space with them.

    Of course it’s a rhetorical question because, as all disabled people know, when it comes to making money we get shoved aside.

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Vaccine pass for visitors in France – your questions answered

France now has in place a vaccine pass that is required for entry into a wide range of everyday venues including bars, cafés, tourist sites and long-distance trains - but this can be complicated for visitors or people vaccinated outside France.

Vaccine pass for visitors in France - your questions answered
Bars and cafés are among the French venues that require a vaccine pass. Photo: Sameer Al Doumy/AFP

Since January 24th, France has put in place a vaccine pass which is required to enter a wide range of venues including bars, cafés, restaurants, gyms, leisure centres, cinemas, theatres, museums, large events and long-distance trains.

In short, if you intend to spend time in France, you are going to need one if you want to do anything fun.

Previously a health pass was in place, which allowed for either proof of vaccination or a recent negative test, but from January 24th negative tests are no longer accepted for anyone aged 16 and older.

You can find more details on how the pass works HERE, but there are some issues which particularly affect tourists, visitors or people vaccinated outside France.

Do I need a vaccine pass to enter France?

No. When the French government talks about the vaccine pass, they mean the domestic pass required to access everyday activities in France.

Depending on where you are travelling from, you may need to show proof of vaccination at the border, but this can be a vaccination certificate from your home country.

Once you’re in France, however, you will most likely need the pass. 

How do I get a vaccine pass?

The vaccine pass isn’t a physical document, it just means that you need to show proof of either vaccination, recent recovery from Covid or a medical exemption in order to enter certain venues (more on those below).

Importantly, however, these documents must have a French QR code so that staff in venues can scan them.

Most people use the TousAntiCovid app, which is available on all smartphones and has an option in English, but you can show paper certificates if you prefer.

If you are travelling from an EU or Schengen zone country you can use your own country’s domestic health/vaccine pass, since all QR codes are compatible within the bloc.

I had a health pass when I came to France in the summer, is the vaccine pass the same thing?

In effect, yes. The health pass required either proof of vaccination, proof of recent recovery from Covid or proof of a recent negative Covid test and most people used the TousAntiCovid app to show this (although you can also show paper certificates).

The vaccine pass doesn’t allow presentation of a negative test result, but in most other respects is the same, so if you have proof of full vaccination, nothing changes for you. Apart, that is, from boosters . . .

Do I need a booster shot to use the vaccine pass?

Probably, yes.

It depends on when you were vaccinated, but over 18s who have not had a booster more than seven months after their second dose are no longer counted as fully vaccinated. 

From February 15th, this window shrinks to four months.

If you have had the booster, it doesn’t matter if the gap between second dose and booster was longer than four or seven months, this concerns only those who have not received a booster shot.

The booster requirement applies to all vaccine pass users, including visitors.

However boosters are not required for travel, so in brief you can enter France without a booster, but you won’t be able to do much once you’re here.

Full details on who needs a booster HERE.

Will my vaccination certificate/booster shot certificate work with the French pass?

It depends on where you were vaccinated.

If you were vaccinated in the EU, Schengen zone or UK then you can scan the QR code on your vaccination certificate straight into the French app. This is also the case if you previously had a health pass and need to add a booster shot in order to keep it valid.

If, however, you were vaccinated in the USA, Canada, Australia or any other non EU/UK/Schengen country then things are a little more complicated. Once in France, you will have to take your vaccination certificate to an approved pharmacy in order to get a QR code that can be used with the French app. Full details HERE.

A vaccination certificate from your home country will be accepted at the border.

I’m not vaccinated but I have recently recovered from Covid, can I use the pass?

The vaccine pass requires one of three things; proof of full Covid vaccination, proof of recent recovery from Covid or proof of a medical exemption (more on that below).

However, the proof of recent recovery must be in an accepted format.

You can find full details on that here, but again it depends on where you tested positive for Covid. If it was in the EU, UK or Schengen zone then you should be able to upload your positive Covid test to the French app. The test must be more than 11 days old, but less than six months old in order to be valid.

If you tested positive outside the EU, you may have a problem. Some countries provide positive tests in a format recognised by France but others – including the USA – do not.

You can find full details of compatible codes HERE.

I had Covid before I could get a booster, what should I do?

If you want to use proof of recent recovery from Covid instead of a booster shot, then it’s the same process as outlined above.

I can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons, what can I do?

France does provide an option for medical exemptions, but the process is so complicated as to be virtually inaccessible to people who are just visiting France.

READ ALSO How can people who cannot be vaccinated use France’s vaccine pass?

In order to use the medical exemption clause, you require a French certificat de contre-indication, and getting one of these is not easy.

First you must fit the criteria of listed medical conditions which constitute an acceptable reason not to be vaccinated – and that is a short list.

Then you need a certificate from a French doctor stating that you cannot be vaccinated, certificates from doctors outside France are not accepted.

Once you have the certificate you need to send it to Assurance Maladie – the French state health insurer – which validates the certificate and issues you with a QR code that can be used with the vaccine pass. French residents can use an online process to send their certificate to Assurance Maladie, but this requires a French social security number. 

Where can I go without a vaccine pass?

The theory behind the vaccine pass is that people can do the essentials of daily life without it, but anything fun requires the pass.

It is not required for shops, short-distance transport or city public transport such as the Paris Metro, most workplaces, parks, beaches and outdoor gyms or when buying food or drink to take out.

It is required for; ski lifts, bars, restaurants, cafés, cinemas, theatres, museums, galleries, tourist sites (including outdoor sites), gyms, leisure centres, sports grounds, concerts, nightclubs (when they reopen), large events like festivals or long-distance train travel.

Are there any exemptions?

There are a couple of exemptions where a negative Covid test, taken within the previous 24 hours, is accepted instead of a vaccine pass.

  • If you need to travel on a long-distance train and have “imperative reasons of a family or health nature” such as going to visit a dying relative – you would need to present some proof of this.
  • A vaccine pass is required to access non-emergency medical treatment or to visit a medical or social establishment (such as a nursing home). If you do not have a vaccine pass you can use a negative test instead. Emergency medical treatment does not require a vaccine pass or a Covid test.

What about children?

  • A vaccine pass is required for anyone aged 16 or above.
  • Children aged between 12 and 15 are required to use the health pass, in which a negative Covid test no more than 24 hours is accepted for those who are not fully vaccinated.
  • Under 12s do not require any type of pass.

The definition of fully vaccinated for children is the same as for adults; to be at least seven days after two doses of Pfizer, AstraZeneca or Moderna vaccines or 28 days after a Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Booster shots are not required for under 18s.

For children travelling from countries that have only recently started offering vaccinations to under 18s, or that only offer a single shot of Pfizer, AstraZeneca or Moderna, this creates a problem as the children are unvaccinated by the French definition and face daily Covid tests in order to keep the health pass.

Do all these venues really check the pass?

Staff at any of the listed vaccine pass venues are supposed to check the pass on entry, but as ever in life, compliance is not 100 percent.

The majority of places do check, especially in the cities, but it can be variable. We’ve also heard anecdotal accounts of staff accepting non-French vaccination certificates, especially the American CDC cards, but be aware that this is not official policy.

It’s probably best not to chance it on a train – guards can remove you from the train at the next stop if you are found to be travelling without a valid pass.

And if you’re tempted to use someone else’s pass in order to gain access to a bar/café etc then we would strongly advise against this – that is vaccine pass fraud and there are very stiff penalties in place for this, including jail time.

Do you have a question on vaccine passes that is not covered here? Email us on [email protected] and we will do our best to answer it.