The Commission proposed on Thursday that travel vaccine certificates be valid for nine months and that the rules for intra-block travel should be tied to the personal health risk of travelers rather than their country of departure.
“This means that holders of an EU certificate should in principle not be subject to further travel restrictions, no matter where they come from in the EU,” said Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders.
The block’s current approach to travel depends on the use of digital COVID certificates or ‘green’ passports, which prove that a traveler has been stabbed, tested or recently infected.
As cases rise again across the block, EU countries have called for guidance on how to address the diminishing protection of vaccines and booster shots within this system.
The commission’s proposal that vaccine certificates be valid for nine months follows the guidelines of the European Center 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 in terms of boosters would risk undermining confidence in the EU’s COVID certification system, Reynders added. In France, for example, the vaccine card is considered valid for seven months; Italy has set nine months as its border.
Countries had also called on the Commission to move away from color-coded card which currently forms the basis of the EU Travel Guide.
The map prepared by the ECDC is based on EU infection rates, test rates and the proportion of positive tests and is used by countries to establish potential restrictions such as quarantines or test requirements.
The Commission did not propose to scrap the color-coded map completely, but proposed to adapt it so that an area’s risk assessment ignores the test positivity rate, but also factors in the uptake of vaccines.
“This takes into account that vaccinated individuals are better protected from transmitting the virus – even if it is not complete,” he said.
The proposal comes at a delicate time – coronavirus cases are on the rise across Europe, with reports of hospitals and intensive care units filling up with new cases. ECDC chief Andrea Ammon warned on Wednesday that unless governments strengthen public health measures, the bloc will be heading for a difficult December-January holiday period.
The new measures, which still need to be approved by the Member States, will take effect on 10 January.
Stricter rules for non-EU travelers
Reynders said the commission has not yet decided how long boosters will be valid, but that it will examine evidence of declining immunity over time. He also said the Commission would propose extending the COVID Certificate Regulation beyond next summer.
The standard nine-month validity of a first set of vaccinations will also apply to travelers from non-EU countries.
The current EU guide stops unnecessary travel outside the EU, but provides 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 considered safe from March. After this date, travelers will be allowed to enter the EU solely depending on their vaccination or recovery status, rather than the epidemiological situation in the country from which they are traveling.
Brussels said EU governments should continue to allow vaccinated travelers to enter and accept those who have recovered from COVID-19 within 180 days of their journey – but that they should also accept vaccines recognized by the World Health Organization; something that is currently up to the EU countries to decide.
Unless a traveler’s vaccine is also recognized by the European Medicines Agency, countries should also require evidence of a negative PCR test before travel, the Commission said.
The proposal can be seen as a tightening of the rules, “because we ask everyone who comes on unnecessary journeys to be vaccinated,” said Interior Commissioner Ylva Johansson. But it would also make the rules more predictable for individual travelers, she added, pointing out that frequent updates of the EU safe list can be difficult to follow.
The EU countries will debate the new proposals this afternoon. If they agree, then it will be up to the individual EU governments to decide whether they will follow the new measures.
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