“Green passes” are descending on Europe, risking civil liberties

As the “Delta variant” continues to plague the world, widespread Covid vaccination across Europe seems to keep hospitalization in check. Still, many Europeans are not yet vaccinated, sometimes because they have not been offered the chance. In a bid to stop Covid from spreading among the unvaccinated, several European governments are now introducing all kinds of restrictions for citizens to enjoy going to a restaurant, a cultural event or sports, requiring them to be either vaccinated, tested against Covid or able to produce proof of antibodies resulting from an earlier Covid infection.

Something similar to a “Green Pass”, issued by the Health Authorities of the Republic of Venice in 1713

One concern would be that those that are vaccinated would still be able to pass on the Covid virus – even if “their ability to infect others is 50 percent lower than those who are not vaccinated”, according to a top Israeli health official. In any case, if one is vaccinated, there is more than 90 percent protection against hospitalization due to a Covid infection. This is also visible in for example the UK, when comparing the Summers of 2019 and 2020. Despite the fact that the British Summer Covid waves were similar in terms of case numbers, there were 85 percent less people in hospital with Covid19.

Italian media have highlighted estimates that a population of 1 million people with only 70% vaccinated would result in more than twice the number of people ending up in hospital as compared to a situation where 92% would be vaccinated:

This then serves as the argument to impose all kinds of restrictions on those that are not vaccinated – as well as extra bureaucracy, like “green passes”, upon those that are vaccinated.

While it may be true that twice as many people end up in hospital when the vaccination rate is only 70%, a lot of those people will have been given the chance to be vaccinated, so at the end of the day, this should be a matter of personal responsibility. Of course, undoubtedly, there are rare cases of vaccinated people getting infected with Covid, but this is the reason why Israel, the UK and Germany are now going for a third booster shot. Today, in Israel, among those that are fully vaccinated and still catch Covid, those that have been fully vaccinated by the end of January make out twice the cases of those that were fully vaccinated by March. In other words, a vaccine booster is a much more targeted way to improve protection for those that are already vaccinated – but too long ago now – than all kinds of intrusive restrictions on public life that drastically restrain civil liberties, due to the lack of proper justification.

True, exceptionally, there may also be people that cannot get vaccinated, due to medical reasons, and as unfair as it is to them, it would be a lot more unfair to restrict the freedom of everyone else. Also the argument that new variants may at point emerge if we do not continue with all kinds of restrictions does not hold water. This would justify restrictions for decades.

Despite these kinds of considerations, several European governments have already introduced so-called “hospitality green passes”, required to enter all indoor hospitality venues, such as bars and restaurants, but in some cases also cinemas, theatres, hotels, sports facilities and places for personal grooming.

An overview by Euronews published last week lists thirteen EU member states as having already introduced or being in the process to introduce such “green passes”. Sometimes, but not always, these are different to the European Covid Digital Certificate (EUDCC), which operates as a travel pass across EU member states, however leaving member states free to introduce extra requirements, as it merely harmonizes recognition of the holder’s status related to vaccination, recovery from Covid-19, or test result.

Reportedly, such green passes – or varieties – have already been introduced in: Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany (in most states, but Angela Merkel may introduce a nationwide variety), Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands (in a way: “No formal legal implementation of a COVID-19 green hospitality pass but businesses that check for proof of vaccination are the only ones allowed open to full capacity”), Portugal, Ireland and Slovenia.

Just like with the EU Covid certificate, such a “green pass” has no use when it is certain that vaccines beat all variants of Covid, because in such a context, the Covid crisis really is over for those that are willing to be vaccinated. Those that refuse to be vaccinated then simply take the risk, without bothering others.

To be fair, until everyone has had the chance to be vaccinated, one could still make a case for certain sensible restrictions, but this should really only be a limited period of time now, as the European Commission announced last week that at least 70% of adults in the EU have now received at least one dose, as the share of those fully vaccinated amounts to 57%.

It is of course no surprise to see that the Covid certificate – originally only meant to restrict travel – is seen as a handy tool to impose restrictions in daily life. Already, stories of bureaucracies unable to handle such complex schemes, are abound.

Lots of protests can be witnessed against the new domestic restrictions, and obviously this mixes in with the rather complex debate on whether employers have the right to request vaccination from their employees in certain sectors – especially healthcare – and whether the government should impose it. Even less surprisingly is to see people skeptical of vaccines joining the protest.



None of that should deflect attention from the key question whether vaccines protect against Covid hospitalisation. So far, the answer seems to be a resounding “yes”, meaning that as long as everyone has the chance to be vaccinated, there is no need for EU Covid certificates to travel or for “green passes” imposing restrictions in daily life.