Nortal HQ, June 11, 2021
People in Estonia who have been vaccinated against COVID-19, received a negative test result or recovered from the disease, can now self-generate a digital certificate aligned with the Europe’s Digital COVID Certificate, allowing people to travel again safely.
Nortal helped Estonia join the first wave of countries launching EU digital COVID certificates – aligning the national vaccine passport with the EU-wide standards that ensure the certificate is recognized in all member states.
The Digital COVID Certificate creates an EU-wide framework for issuing, verifying, and acknowledging vaccination, test result, and COVID recovery certifications to facilitate travel within the EU, and possibly beyond. The European Union’s digital COVID certification gateway will be fully operational from July 1for 12 months.
The certificate generated on the Estonian digital patient portal can be used on a smart device or printed out. It can be authenticated employing its accompanying Quick Response (QR) code. The other party then uses a front-end solution (a website, QR code reader, which will take the user to a link authenticating the passport, etc.) connected to the European Green Gateway through which all certificate signatures can be verified across the EU. The certificate, therefore, assures that the data originates from a national database and is authentic.
“We were one of the first in the world to go live with a countrywide digital vaccine passport in April, and now we have aligned it with the EU Digital COVID Certificate, which will usher in a new era of how health data is used to ensure safe travel,” said CEO of Nortal Estonia, Ats Albre. “Enormous effort from our team and partners went into this critical solution, pushing it to live in under five weeks. We all want the world to open up again, and we had a chance to play our part in it.”
Opening up countries
Figuring out ways to restore international travel has been a priority since the first wave in 2020. Then, Nortal together with ottonova and inHealth also developed a travel app named SimplyGo to facilitate smooth international travel during the global outbreak of COVID-19, which completed a successful live test with SITA, the technology provider for the air transport industry, in early 2021.
Now the Digital COVID Certificates lay the ground for restoring international travel once again. When traveling, every certificate holder will have the same rights as citizens of the visited member state who were vaccinated, tested, or recovered from COVID-19. The European Parliament agreed that the EU member states should refrain from imposing additional travel restrictions on EU Digital COVID Certificate holders unless necessary and proportionate to safeguard public health. And in such a case, the member state must inform the European Commission and all other member states in a timely manner and provide reasons for such new measures. In the future, the certificate can work to keep the economy more open during pandemics.
“I believe in a digital transition that puts people at its heart,” Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said in a speech at the opening of the Digital Assembly on June 1. “It is a tangible example of how people benefit from digital progress in the EU. It also matters how we’re doing things. The EU certificate is a prime example of digital tools that represent our values: The EU values privacy. No personal data will be exchanged or retained. The EU is inclusive. Whoever is not vaccinated, can get a digital certificate for test or recovery. Whoever does not have a smartphone, can get it on paper. With the certificate, we want to help people to move freely in times of pandemic.”
The personal data of the certificate holder does not pass through the European Green Gateway, as this is not necessary to verify the digital signature. For verification purposes, only the validity and authenticity of the certificate are checked, by verifying who issued and signed it. During this process, no personal data is exchanged. Therefore, the certificates will only include the minimum amount of necessary information and visited countries cannot retain this. All health data remains with the member state that issued an EU Digital COVID Certificate.
Self-generating a digital vaccination pass has been possible in Estonia since April 2021. But since the EU’s Digital Gateway to verify the certificates was only rolled out in June, the EU-wide certificates weren’t available earlier.
The technical solution was developed in cooperation with the Estonian Health and Welfare Information Systems Center, Nortal, Industry62 and Guardtime, as well as the Information Technology and Development Center of the Estonian Ministry of the Interior.