The European Commission is proposing that Member States ease restrictions on non-essential travel into the European Union (EU) to take into account the progress of vaccination campaigns and developments in the ‘epidemiological situation’ worldwide.
Should the proposals come to fruition, this would provide a much-needed boost for the European travel industry which has been decimated by the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
While non-essential travel could be set to return on 17 May, there are some who remain sceptical. As reported, a cross-party group of more than 60MPs and peers have urged the UK government to continue curbing international travel after this date.
In the meantime, the Commission is proposing to allow entry to the EU for non-essential reasons, not only for all people coming from countries with ‘a good epidemiological situation’, but for everyone who has received the last recommended dose of an EU-authorised vaccine at least 14 days before arrival.
This could be extended to vaccines having completed the World Health Organisation emergency-use listing process.
In addition, if Member States decide to waive the requirements to present a negative PCR test and/or to undergo quarantine for vaccinated persons on their territory, the Commission says they should also waive such requirements for vaccinated travellers from outside the EU.
This should be facilitated once the Digital Green Certificate becomes operational, in line with Commission rules proposed on 17 March.
In particular, travellers should be able to prove their vaccination status with a Digital Green Certificate issued by Member States’ authorities on an individual basis, or with another certificate recognised as equivalent by virtue of a Commission adequacy decision.
Until the Digital Green Certificate is operational, Member States should be able to accept certificates from non-EU countries based on national law, taking into account the ability to verify the authenticity, validity and integrity of the certificate and whether it contains all relevant data.
Member States could consider setting up a portal allowing travellers to ask for the recognition of a vaccination certificate issued by a non-EU country as reliable proof of vaccination and/or for the issuance of a Digital Green Certificate.
Non-essential travel regardless of individual vaccination status is permitted from seven countries with a ‘good epidemiological situation’. This list is decided by the Council on the basis of epidemiological criteria contained in the current recommendation.
The Commission is proposing to amend the criteria to take into account the mounting evidence of the positive impact of vaccination campaigns. The proposal is to increase the threshold of 14-day cumulative Covid-19 case notification rate from 25 to 100. This remains considerably below the current EU average, which is over 420.
The adapted threshold should allow the Council to expand the list of countries from which non-essential travel is permitted regardless of vaccination status, subject to health-related measures such as testing and/or quarantine. As of now, the Council should review this list at least every 2 weeks.
Simultaneously, the Commission says the emergence of Covid-19 variants of concern calls for continued vigilance. It is, therefore, proposing a new ‘emergency brake’ mechanism, to be coordinated at EU level.
This would limit the risk of such variants entering the EU and allow Member States to act quickly and temporarily limit ‘to a strict minimum’ all travel from affected countries for the time needed to implement appropriate sanitary measures.
The Commission said that a first discussion on the proposals was due to take place today (4 May) at the Council’s political crisis response meeting. The proposals are also due to be discussed tomorrow at the meeting of EU Ambassadors.
Once the proposal is adopted by the Council, it will be for Member States to implement the measures.