Update on South Africa’s Covid-19 certificate and travelling overseas

The Department of Health plans to roll out further ‘upgrades’ to South Africa’s Covid-19 certificate – but there are limitations on how the certificate can currently be used abroad.

The department’s acting director-general Dr Nicholas Crisp told eNCA that the certificate is being rolled out in three phases:

  • A pilot phase;
  • A verifiable phase using a QR code in South African using South African technology;
  • An international phase that will introduce crypto-security and allow the certificate to be used overseas.

Crisp said that the certificate is currently designed to allow access to events in South Africa – including sports, restaurants and workplaces – and that it will be some time before these features are available abroad.

This means South Africa’s vaccine certificate cannot be ‘read’ internationally, with international Covid-19 vaccine certificates also not readable locally.

Crisp added that international discussions around improved functionality will likely continue until the end of the year. However, he cautioned that expanding the certificate for international use has a significant cost associated with it.

“At this stage, we are trying to work out where to get the money for the last phase. Remember, the number of people that travel abroad is very small compared to the number of people it was designed for in South Africa. The first and most important step is that it is useful here.”

Crisp said that while the certificates are ‘recognised’ internationally, they are not necessarily readable. He added that thousands of South Africans have still travelled overseas without issue.

He said that he would engage with the Department of International Relations and Cooperation to develop a list of the countries where the South African Covid-19 certificate is accepted.

Second phase 

The Covid-19 certificate is currently only available to people fully vaccinated against Covid-19, with users required to fill in their contact details, including their ID number and Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS) code.

Upon entering these details, users will be sent a one-time PIN confirming the authenticity of the information they have provided. The PIN can then be entered to access the final, digital Covid-19 vaccine certificate.

In a media briefing on 12 November, Health minister Dr Joe Phaahla officially announced phase 2 of the certificate that will see the QR codes embedded on the digital certificates ‘go live’.

This will allow third-party groups to use the QR codes to verify the validity of the info on the card, he said.

The opening up of the QR code to third parties will allow private businesses and the government to better monitor who has or has not been vaccinated and could pave the way for the further reopening of sports and other events in South Africa.

It could also make it easier to monitor areas where mandatory Covid-19 vaccination policies have been put in place.

Read: New modelling shows what to expect from fourth Covid-19 wave in South Africa

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Update on South Africa’s Covid-19 certificate and travelling overseas