Although it has been more than month since the health department launched the Covid vaccination certificate, a number of issues have arisen, with some people saying their certificates are not accepted in certain countries abroad.
According to department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) spokesperson Clayson Monyela, there were no globally standardised vaccine certificate requirements and they depended on the country’s technology.
Monyela said while they did not produce or manage vaccine certificates, the issue around QR, or quick response, codes, barcodes, and valid certificates depended on the country, as not every country in the European Union (EU) questioned SA’s QR code, or even had problems with the certificate.
“The experience of travellers is not common in all European countries. I know people that have travelled to several European countries with the SA vaccine certificate, which was accepted with no questions asked, or no problems at all,” he said.
Field application scientist Roberto Pereira tweeted he had flown for the first time – to Denmark for work – and was shocked SA was still on the “high-risk” list.
“Our vaccine certificate is not really recognised there, either. I can only travel between my place of work and the hotel,” he said.
“I’m not there for a holiday. I’m there to work, but I still find it strange SA is on their high-risk list. What about the rest of Europe, with skyrocketing cases?
“Also, has the health department really thought through how their certificates will work. I don’t think they are recognised by the EU?”
Health department spokesperson Foster Mohale said the vaccine certificate QR code was now active to enable people and organisations to scan and verify certificates domestically as part of the phase two of the certification process.
“It is true that the QR code is not scannable outside our borders, however, foreign certificate QRs are not readable here either, just as ours are not abroad,” he said.
“The cost of the encryption plus the international linkages are expensive and complex.”
He said most countries did not have readable QR codes in other jurisdictions owing to fraud issues and the cost of security.
“It was our goal to provide a secure and verifiable certificate for domestic use and this has been achieved,” Mohale said.
“We will continue to engage with other countries and regions to explore ways to ensure our certificates remain acceptable beyond our borders.”
South African Airways spokesperson Vimla Maistry said it depended on border control because people produced the certificates to the customs officials and health authorities.
“Each country has their own rules for SA, depending on which country you are coming from, they just need you to produce a vaccine certificate,” she said.
Meanwhile, acting director-general at the health department Dr Nicholas Crisp said it would take some time before SA’s Covid vaccination certificates would be available for use abroad, as they were still figuring out where they could get the money for the final phase.
He also said Dirco was still negotiating reciprocation with embassies for the use of vaccination certificates and the number of people travelling abroad was small compared to the number of people it was designed for in SA.
In an interview with eNCA, Crisp said the certificates were designed for local verification, so sports venues, restaurants and workplaces could use them to “allow or disallow” people access.
“The minister announced a couple of months ago that we would do it in three phases,” he said.
“First phase would be a pilot phase; the second would be a verifiable phase using a QR code in SA using South African technology and the third would be an international phase which requires a lot of crypto security, which is an expensive and time consuming exercise.”