The Commission Thursday proposed that vaccine certificates for travel be valid for nine months, and that rules on travel within the bloc should be tied to travelers’ personal health risk, rather than their country of departure.
“This means that holders of an EU certificate should in principle not be subject to additional travel restrictions, wherever they come from in the European Union,” Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders said.
The bloc’s current approach to travel relies on the use of digital COVID certificates, or ‘green’ passes, which prove that a traveler got jabbed, tested or was recently infected.
As cases spike once again across the bloc, EU countries have been calling for guidance on how to treat vaccines’ waning protection and booster shots within that system.
The Commission’s proposal that vaccine certificates be valid for nine months follows guidance from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) that countries offer booster shots from six months after a person’s first round of vaccines, Reynders said. It also gives countries another three months to organize booster campaigns.
A divergent approach between countries on boosters would risk undermining trust in the EU’s COVID certificate system, Reynders added. In France, for example, the vaccine pass is considered valid for seven months; Italy has set nine months as its limit.
Countries had also called for the Commission to move away from the color-coded map that currently forms the basis of EU travel guidance.
The map, drawn up by the ECDC, is based on EU areas’ infection numbers, testing rates and the share of positive tests and is used by countries to establish potential restrictions such as quarantines or testing requirements.
The Commission didn’t propose scrapping the color-coded map altogether but suggested adapting it so that an area’s risk assessment disregards the test positivity rate, but also factors in the uptake of vaccines.
“This takes into account that vaccinated persons are better protected from transmitting the virus — even if not completely,” he said.
The proposal comes at a delicate time — coronavirus cases are rising throughout Europe, with reports of hospitals and ICU units filling up with new cases. ECDC chief Andrea Ammon warned Wednesday that unless governments strengthened public health measures, the bloc would be headed for a difficult December-January holiday period.
The new measures, which still need to receive the approval of member countries, would apply from January 10.
Tighter rules for non-EU travelers
Reynders said the Commission hasn’t yet decided how long boosters should be valid, but that it would be examining evidence of waning immunity over time. He also said the Commission would propose extending the COVID certificate regulation beyond next summer.
The standard nine-month validity of an initial set of vaccinations would also apply to travelers from non-EU countries.
The EU’s current guidance halts non-essential travel from outside the EU but carves out exemptions for vaccinated travelers and for people traveling from a country considered safe, regardless of their vaccination status.
But the Commission proposed dropping its list of non-EU countries that are considered safe from March. After that date, travelers would be allowed entry into the EU solely depending on their vaccination or recovery status, rather than the epidemiological situation in the country from which they’re traveling.
Brussels said EU governments should continue to allow entry to vaccinated travelers and accept those who have recovered from COVID-19 within 180 days of their trip — but that they should also accept vaccines recognized by the World Health Organization; something that’s currently up to EU countries to decide.
However, unless a traveler’s vaccine is also recognized by the European Medicines Agency, countries should also require proof of a negative PCR test before travel, the Commission said.
The proposal can be considered a sharpening of the rules, “because we request every person that’s coming for non-essential travel to be vaccinated,” Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said. But it would also make the rules more predictable for individual travelers, she added, pointing out that frequent updates to the EU’s safe list can be hard to follow.
EU countries will debate the new proposals this afternoon. If they are agreed, it will then be up to individual EU governments to decide whether they want to follow the new measures.
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