BRUSSELS: The European Union's executive yesterday proposed that travelers who are fully vaccinated with EU-approved jabs be able to enter the bloc, a statement said. The European Commission urged the EU's 27 member countries - which make their own decisions on health matters - to "lift restrictions on non-essential travel for vaccinated persons travelling to the EU".
It also wants to see travelers from countries that have done a good job in keeping COVID-19 at bay to be able to enter, based on how many infections they register per 100,000 people averaged over a two-week period. The proposal would see that infection threshold raised from the "very severe" bar of 25 cases per 100,000 decided nearly a year ago to 100 cases, an EU official involved with drafting the proposal told journalists on condition of not being identified.
"So we will no longer have the choice among, let's say, 10 to 15 countries around the world, but member states will be able to pick up countries, international countries in a list of up to 100 countries, if the situation continues to develop in a positive way," he said.
Proof that an individual was fully vaccinated - at least two weeks before arriving in the EU, for full immunity to kick in - would not exclude member states also requiring COVID tests either before or after arrival, or quarantine if authorities deemed them warranted, he added. The proposal also says an "emergency brake" option should be kept in reserve to allow member states to quickly close travel from countries where a "variant of concern or interest is detected".
The EU currently has four vaccines currently authorized by its European Medicines Agency: From BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. Others may be added later. The EMA is beginning to look at Russia's Sputnik V vaccine. So far, however, no assessment is being made of China's jabs, which are used in several countries. The statement said other vaccines may later be added to the list for approved EU travel if they feature on a World Health Organization emergency use list of jabs.
The EU at the moment recommends a general ban on travelers entering the bloc, except for those on essential business, and most member states are respecting this rule. Just six countries - Australia, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand - are on an EU list permitting member states to "gradually" lift travel restrictions on travelers coming from them. Their figures show COVID infections are under control.
China is on that list too, but travel restrictions will be eased only if it reciprocates and permits arrivals from the EU, which is not the case at the moment. The European Commission is keen to see Europe open its borders soon to travelers meeting its criteria, to save the continent's important summer tourism season.
A key component of that is a planned "digital green certificate" to prove that the bearer has been vaccinated, has recent negative COVID test results, or has immunity after recovering from a COVID infection. It plans to launch that certificate next month for travel within the EU, with the aim of eventually relying on such a document for travelers from countries outside the bloc. - AFP