The Commission proposed on Thursday that vaccine certificates for travel are valid for nine months and that rules for intra-block travel should be linked to travelers’ personal health risk, rather than their country of departure.
“This means that, in principle, holders of an EU certificate should not receive additional travel restrictions, wherever they come from in the European Union,” said Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders.
The block’s current approach to travel relies on the use of digital COVID certificates, or “green” passes, which prove that a traveler has been stung, tested, or recently infected.
With cases rising again across the bloc, EU countries have sought advice on how to deal with the dwindling protection of vaccines and booster injections within that system.
The Commission’s proposal that vaccine certificates be valid for nine months follows guidelines from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) that countries offer booster shots from six months after a person’s first round of vaccination, Reynders said. It also gives countries another three months to organize booster campaigns.
A divergent approach between countries on boosters could undermine confidence in the EU-COVID certification system, Reynders added. In France, for example, the vaccine pass is considered valid for seven months; Italy has set a nine-month limit.
Countries had also asked the Commission to distance themselves from the color coded map which currently forms the basis of EU travel guidance.
The map, prepared by ECDC, is based on the infection numbers, test rates and the share of positive tests in the EU areas and is used by countries to identify possible restrictions such as quarantines or testing requirements.
The Commission did not propose to delete the color-coded map altogether, but suggested that it be amended so that the risk assessment of an area does not take into account test positivity, but also factors for vaccine uptake.
“This takes into account the fact that vaccinated individuals are better protected against transmission of the virus – even if it is not complete,” he said.
The proposal comes at a delicate time – the number of coronavirus cases is rising across Europe, with reports of hospitals and IC units filling with new cases. ECDC chief Andrea Ammon warned on Wednesday that unless governments strengthen public health measures, the bloc will face a difficult December-January holiday period.
The new measures, which are yet to be approved by member states, would apply from 10 January.
Stricter rules for non-EU travelers
Reynders said the Commission has not yet decided how long boosters should be valid, but will examine evidence of waning immunity over time. He also said the Commission would propose to extend the COVID Certificate Regulation beyond next summer.
The standard nine-month validity period for a first set of vaccinations would also apply to travelers from non-EU countries.
Current EU guidelines stop non-essential travel from outside the EU, but provide exemptions for vaccinated travelers and for people traveling from a country considered safe, regardless of their vaccination status.
But the Commission proposed to delete its list of non-EU countries considered safe from March. After that date, travelers would only be allowed to enter the EU depending on their vaccination or recovery status, rather than the epidemiological situation in the country from which they travel.
Brussels said EU governments must continue to grant access to vaccinated travelers and accept those who have recovered from COVID-19 within 180 days of their trip – but also need to accept vaccines recognized by the World Health Organization; something that is currently up to the EU countries to decide.
However, unless the traveler’s vaccine is also recognized by the European Medicines Agency, countries must also require proof of a negative PCR test before travelling, the Commission said.
The proposal can be seen as a tightening of the rules, “because we ask that everyone who comes for non-essential travel be vaccinated,” said Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson. But it would also make the rules more predictable for individual travelers, she added, noting that frequent updates to the EU’s safe list are hard to follow.
EU countries will debate the new proposals this afternoon. If they agree, it will be up to individual EU governments to decide whether they want to follow the new measures.
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