The almighty QR code easing our travels

Anett Numa, e-Estonia

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Travelling for work used to be such a simple thing to do until the beginning of 2020. How many trips have you had in the last year? Not too many, I guess.

A couple of weeks ago, I had my first trip for work in a long while. Planning your travels and meetings has taken another dimension these days. What are the latest restrictions? Do I need to have a PCR test to enter? Is vaccination certificate already approved in country X? These and many other questions need to be considered before visiting other countries.

Digital green certificate

Estonia was the first country to use vaccination certificates in April and among the first countries to join the European Union’s digital covid-19 vaccination passport “ digital green certificate.” I am one of the lucky ones to be fully vaccinated. Just 30 seconds after my second dose, my vaccination certificate was available to download in the Estonian Patient Portal to prove my immunity.

I did my due diligence and knew that the airline I was flying with accepts the vaccination certificate. Additionally, the country I was going to visit also required a negative PCR test. Surprisingly, while checking my papers, Tallinn airport staff only paid attention to the date and whether my name matches with the document issued. No one ever scanned the QR code on my form, and the process was instead manual. This caused a useless long queue to form behind me and made my fellow travellers anxious.

Trouble at the airport

On the way back home, I had consulted with my travel agency and the airline to be 100% sure I can board without a PCR test, using my vaccination certificate instead. Both confirmed that there is no PCR test needed. Unfortunately, the lady at the check-in table had other ideas and started arguing that my certificate was required to be issued six months ago. This confused me as there were no vaccines available at that time. After discussing it for more than half an hour, her colleague made a couple of calls to the airline, and they finally gave me the green light and apologised. Now let’s imagine the same situation if there is a method to prove your certificate while doing online check-in or just scanning your QR code without explaining any confusing details.

What info does a vaccination certificate show?

What kind of information do we carry on our vaccination certificates? We can see the producer of the vaccine used and whether the inoculation process has been completed. A QR code is also generated, which helps us ensure the validity and other necessary information. There are two primary certificates Estonian companies with our Ministry of Social Affairs have issued. First one – the VaccineGuard solution, which we can download on our Patient Portal issued by Guardtime. The other solution – SimplyGo, has been implemented by Nortal. It is a digital health data platform and app created by ION, an alliance of international health and technology companies Nortal, Ottonova, InHealth, and Daman. Using SimplyGo, travellers and the transportation industry benefit from a secure and GDPR-compliant data platform with fully standardised technology. And for those concerned with privacy, only accredited medical providers can transmit personal information on the borders.

The almighty QR code

A list of countries already ease the isolation requirements with a vaccination certificate, negative test certificate, or an immunisation certificate. But how can we make sure the certificate is precise? That is the place where QR code comes along.

This week EU leaders finally launched the plan to use the digital green certificate to enter into force from July 1st. Today, I was able to log into the Health Information System platform and download another version of the vaccination certificate that has the EU’s “stamp” on it. So it feels like travelling is getting a bit easier for those who have been vaccinated, have given a negative test, or have a previous record of infection. Plus, the EU member states can not apply any additional restrictions for people who have had two doses of any vaccine approved by the EU. But how does this work? The QR code has been embedded with an allocated digital signature, and border staff would scan the QR code and access the data, but still, no personal information will be seen.

As I embark on yet another work trip today, I will be sure to monitor how this updated process works and keep you posted.

Written by
Anett Numa

digital transformation adviser at the e-estonia briefing centre


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