EXPLAINED: How the EU could change rules of Covid certificate for travel

A customer shows her Green Pass on a mobile phone in a central Rome bar
How the EU could change its Covid certificate for travel Photo: Andreas SOLARO / AFP
As infection rates surge in parts of Europe the EU aims to make some changes to its flagship Covid certificate which has allowed for restriction free travel within the bloc.

Since it was rolled out in July the EU’s Covid certificate has allowed for those vaccinated, recovered or who tested negative, to travel freely within the bloc without the need for subsequent tests or quarantine.

However with cases now surging in parts of the EU and the consensus between member states fractured as certain countries impose new travel restrictions, the European Commission recognises the need to tighten the rules of the Covid certificate.

Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides told EU lawmakers in Strasbourg this week that there was a need to set a uniform duration for the validity of the Covid certificate as well as cover the inclusion of booster shots.

“We need to avoid fragmentation,” she said.

“I fully agree with the urgency, and this is why the European Commission is working with the utmost urgency to strengthen the coordination of free movement, including the length of validity and the role of boosters in the vaccination campaign,” she told European lawmakers in Strasbourg.

Kyriakides said discussions with EU member states on the Covid certificate were ongoing, and the bloc’s executive Commission intended to come up with proposals this week, Reuters reported.
 
The changes will “promote and acknowledge the important role of EU Digital Covid Certificate that travellers nowadays carry,” she said.
 
It is believed the time limit on validity could be set at 12 months after the second dose (or after the first dose for a one-shot vaccine) although Greece is pushing for the certificate to require a booster vaccine six months after the final dose.
 
That would mean vaccinated travellers would need to take a booster shot or be forced to take a test before travel within the EU once they have passed the time limit.
 
Under the harmonised system the Covid certificates, which can be on paper or stored electronically on smartphones –  carry proof via a QR code that the holder has either:

  • been vaccinated against Covid-19
  • recently recovered from the virus (meaning the holder has antibodies in their system)
  • recently tested negative for Covid 
But a time limit for their use was never set and with studies revealing that immunity via vaccination wears off after six or seven months there has been increased pressure to add a duration length to the certificates as well as include mention of booster shots.
 
Given that borders are national competence not an EU one member states have always been allowed to introduce their own Covid entry rules and restrictions.
 
Germany, which is battling a punishing new wave of Covid, has already moved away from the unified border restrictions, when it recently announced that people from EU states Belgium, Ireland, Greece and the Netherlands who aren’t vaccinated or recovered from Covid will have to self-isolate upon arrival.
 
Austria has moved to tighten the rules on testing to bar the use of antigen tests as well as impose a limit of 270 days on the validity of vaccinations.
 
Certain countries like France are already making a booster shot obligatory for the continued validity of the health pass. So far only the over 65s will need a booster shot to ensure their certificates are valid but is expected the measure will eventually be extended to all adults.
 
The commission’s proposals will be submitted to EU ambassadors from each member state who will then have to decide whether to adopt them.
 
Separate to the harmonised EU travel agreement many member states such as France and Italy have made vaccine passes compulsory for entry into leisure venues such as bars and restaurants. 
 


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