EU weighs changes to Covid certificates, travel rules during surge
The European Union is discussing this week how to update its digital Covid-19 certificates and its approach to travel within and outside the bloc as member nations take varying steps to counter the latest wave of the pandemic.
“We need to avoid fragmentation,” Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides told the European Parliament on Monday, emphasising that the EU’s Covid-19 certificate has been the “meeting point” for coordination across the bloc.
Kyriakides confirmed that the commission will adopt changes to the bloc’s travel rules this week that will “promote and acknowledge the important role of EU Digital Covid Certificate that travellers nowadays carry.”
The commission is due to submit proposals to the bloc’s ambassadors Wednesday on how to revise recommendations on non-essential travel between the EU and third countries, according to EU diplomats who declined to be named on confidential preparations. There are currently no plans to curb travel, but the evolution of the pandemic and potential lockdowns may affect travel for people who have been vaccinated.
Governments across the EU have so far taken contrasting steps as the pandemic worsens. While some western European nations have stemmed a deadly outbreak with high vaccination rates, Germany has lagged behind with less than 70% of the population fully vaccinated.
Austria, which is back in a lockdown, is imposing fines of up to €3,600 on those who refuse to get a coronavirus vaccines once mandatory inoculations kick in next year.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has increased pressure on Germans to get inoculated by announcing plans to restrict many leisure activities for the unvaccinated. By contrast, Belgium has reimposed mandatory teleworking rules while keeping nightclubs open.
Ahead of the commission’s proposals on Wednesday, European affairs ministers will discuss booster shots when they meet in Brussels on Tuesday, along with a debate over whether to change the length of time a Covid-19 vaccination certificate is valid for, according to the EU diplomats.
The ministers, who have the task of preparing the next EU leaders’ summit on 16-17 December, will also discuss vaccine hesitancy, which has fuelled sometimes violent street protests in several member states in recent days, one of the diplomats said.
The Commission’s proposals on non-essential travel are not binding on member states. EU countries agreed earlier this year to harmonise travel restrictions. Currently, countries can require quarantine or testing if people come from an area with a high enough infection rate, and can impose stricter restrictions on people traveling to or arriving from areas coded “dark red” on the EU’s common map. The framework also lays out recommendations for approaching travel from outside the EU. Rules for access to restaurants and public events are set by national governments.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, is expected to come up with a proposal on the validity of Covid-19 certificates, one of the diplomats said. Harmonisation is needed as the current patchwork of regulations may complicate attempts to counter the pandemic, the diplomat added.
The Covid certificates have helped facilitate travel around the EU, although some countries are beginning to impose new restrictions. Germany recently announced that people from Belgium, Ireland, Greece and the Netherlands who aren’t vaccinated or recovered from Covid will have to self-isolate upon arrival, while Austria has banned leisure travel into the country until 13 December.
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