The Barcelona hospitality sector is divided in the debate on the application of a COVID passport to enter establishments, a pioneering measure in France and that other countries such as Portugal and Italy have also adopted. In Spain, on the other hand, the implementation is being more controversial. This Saturday the Justice rejected the obligation to present the COVID certificate to enter the hospitality industry in Galicia that had been imposed by the Xunta. However, the debate has been opened and divides not only health workers but also the sectors that could be affected by such a measure.
The Barcelona Restoration Guild would welcome the proposal, since they believe that it would encourage vaccination and avoid closures such as those experienced in recent months. The Barcelona Hotel Association, on the other hand, believes that alternative measures should be adopted that are not controlled by the businesses themselves. From the field of bioethics they also question the measure, while legal experts point out that, right now, the COVID passport would not have a legal basis to be mandatory.
The president of the Barcelona Restoration Guild, Roger Pallarols, believes that it would be a good option to control future waves. “Always under the assumption that we are at high incidence levels and that vaccination is open to all, it would be a measure that would receive our support,” he points out in statements to the ACN agency. For the head of the association, the application of this measure in other countries “is the confirmation that steps cannot be taken back again” and that it is necessary to ensure the recovery of the sectors most affected by the pandemic. “Punishing some of the economic activities cannot be the recipe for the future,” he underlines. As a defense, the restaurant sector “cannot constantly live with the handbrake on”, and sees just as important “control the pandemic and that people make ends meet.”
Pallarols also does not believe that the entry into force of this measure will stop the arrival of tourists, but quite the opposite. “We think that any regulation that gives the feeling of maximum control and security is positive for the recovery of the industry and mobility in general,” he says. In any case, it clarifies that this “will not be a definitive measure.” “It will be to have overcome the pandemic,” he highlights.
In this sense, the general director of the organization of restaurateurs ensures that the best tool to combat the crisis is vaccination. Although he prefers not to get wet, he believes that the obligation to get vaccinated against COVID-19 should be, at least, “an important debate on the part of the medical community and legislators.”
The Barcelona Hotels Guild, on the other hand, is against the establishment of a COVID passport. “With the problems that we already have now, we only need to act as police officers and monitor whether people have been vaccinated or not,” says the union’s general director, Manel Casals. For this representative of the sector, it would be good if the administration evaluated alternative measures with the ultimate goal of ensuring that everyone is vaccinated. “In other European countries, people hospitalized for COVID and who could have been vaccinated before had to pay medical expenses; this seems to me a more appropriate measure and that goes to the heart of the problem, since it does not affect the rest of the sectors”, aim.
On the other hand, Casals believes that the obligatory nature of the COVID certificate would discourage the arrival of tourists to Catalonia, who would seek destinations with fewer requirements to be able to travel. Regarding vaccination, the manager rejects that it has to be mandatory, but encourages people to get some of the available vaccines.
Skepticism from bioethics
From the field of bioethics, the application of a COVID passport in establishments or activities is not viewed favorably either. The vice president of the Catalunya Bioethics Committee (CBC), Màrius Morlans, explains to ACN that the first requirement to be able to implement this measure would be that everyone has been able to get vaccinated, otherwise “discrimination” would occur. It adds, however, that despite complying with this, it would be necessary to establish some requirements that also take into account people who cannot be vaccinated, for example due to allergies to vaccines, and those whose vaccination is delayed due to having recently passed the illness.
Despite meeting all these requirements, he wonders if it would really be useful to establish a COVID passport and acknowledges that he has “serious doubts” about the effectiveness of a control mechanism like this. Morlans puts on the table what the passport would really be certifying, since it is known that vaccinated people can also transmit the disease and become infected, even if it is attenuated. “This should make us cautious about certifying things,” he says.
The vice president of the CBC considers that the beneficial effect of all this is the debate that is taking place about whether or not to introduce elements such as the COVID pass. It also raises the problems of applying such an instrument. “I am very skeptical that he will help us,” he sums up.
Morlans gives his personal opinion on this, since the Bioethics Committee of Catalonia has not discussed the COVID passport, for which he has not received any request. Yes, he has received, and diverse, on whether the coronavirus vaccine should be mandatory or not. In this case, the CBC has been in favor of not making the vaccine mandatory.
Morlans insists that it is known that vaccinated people can also transmit and become infected with COVID and, therefore, “there is no consistency to make vaccination mandatory.” It adds that even if that consistency existed, the recommendation would continue to be defended over the obligation. “I believe more in education and the behavior of society,” he declares. In addition, the high percentages of vaccination in Catalonia stand out.
Regarding vaccination among professionals such as health workers or teachers, he is not in favor of making it compulsory either, but the CBC has repeatedly ruled on the “moral or ethical duty” of these professionals.
In any case, Morlans is committed to mechanisms that “stimulate” vaccination and proposes that one of the ways would be to know the vaccination rates of hospitals and schools. He assures that having this information in a transparent way, respecting anonymity, would stimulate professionals: “Nobody wants to be the last.” In addition, it values that citizens have the right to know this information to make their decisions.
The COVID passport, without legal basis
Until now, some autonomous communities have tried with little success to require the COVID passport to access establishments. The lawyer Jordi Bacaria, founder of Global Legal Data, reminds the ACN that the European regulation that creates this passport has a single purpose, which is to “guarantee the free movement” of European citizens through the EU.
For this reason, he considers that “there is a very significant leap” between guaranteeing the movement of people and not allowing people to enter a restaurant without a passport. In his opinion, using the pretext of the passport to prevent or allow entry has no legal basis for now. Also, remember that the measure impacts fundamental rights, since vaccination is not mandatory.
The only way to implement the health pass to access an establishment would be to find this legal basis, which could be framed in the general public interest and the health of people and workers themselves. This type of legal basis, advises Bacaria, should be a rule with the force of law, and not an order from a health department.
“If it is deemed appropriate to dictate a rule with the force of law, we could build this rule and it could become legal,” he adds. For now, however, he sees a “difficult” fit of the actions in some autonomous communities with the data protection regulations. “There are many legal doubts,” he says.
The fact that health data is processed without a legal basis would eventually be a “very serious offense”, according to this lawyer, who states that he would not be surprised if the Spanish Data Protection Agency asked the administrations for explanations.
A measure that spans Europe
Currently, about twenty European countries already contemplate the rule of requesting a COVID certificate to enter bars, restaurants and entertainment venues. Among the countries that do not apply the measure are Spain, Germany, Finland or Sweden. Although not enforcing the restriction, Germany has announced that it will stop administering free tests to unvaccinated people to encourage vaccination.
Portugal and Italy were among the first to follow the French path. In Portuguese or Italian territory, however, you only have to present a vaccination certificate or a negative test if you intend to consume indoors. In the case of Portugal, more specifically, only in the premises of the municipalities with a higher incidence during weekends. Denmark, for example, has also started to require her ‘coronapass’ to go to the hairdresser.
In the United States, only New York has begun to request its own COVID passport to access indoor bars, restaurants and entertainment venues. The “Key to NYC” will take effect on August 16, and will make New York the first major US metropolis to have its own viral passport.