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EU sets out plan for coronavirus pass to allow free travel by summer

The plan will be discussed next week during a summit of EU leaders.

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(Lewis Whyld/PA)

(Lewis Whyld/PA)

(Lewis Whyld/PA)

The European Union’s executive body has proposed the introduction of coronavirus passes to let its 450 million residents travel freely across the 27-nation bloc by the summer.

The plan, which will be discussed next week during a summit of EU leaders, foresees the creation of vaccine certificates aimed at facilitating travel from one member state to the other.

“We all want the tourist season to start. We can’t afford to lose another season,” European Commission vice president Vera Jourova told Czech public radio.

“Tourism, and also culture and other sectors that are dependent on tourism, terribly suffer. We’re talking about tens of millions of jobs.”

The topic has been discussed for weeks and has been a divisive topic. The travel industry and southern European countries dependent on tourism, like Greece and Spain, have been pushing for the quick introduction of the measure, which could help avoid quarantine and testing requirements.

But several member states, including France, argued that it would be premature and discriminatory to introduce such passes because a large majority of EU citizens have not had access to vaccines so far.

To secure the agreement of all member states, the European Commission proposed that its so-called Digital Green Certificates, which should be free of charge, would be delivered to EU residents who could prove they had been vaccinated, but also to those who tested negative for the virus or had proof they had recovered from it.

According to data compiled by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, less than 5% of European citizens have been fully vaccinated amid delays in deliveries and production of vaccines.

But the European Commission remains confident it can achieve its goal of 70% of the adult population being vaccinated by the end of the summer.

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“Being vaccinated will not be a pre-condition to travel,” the commission said.

“All EU citizens have a fundamental right to free movement in the EU and this applies regardless of whether they are vaccinated or not. The Digital Green Certificate will make it easier to exercise that right, also through testing and recovery certificates.”

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the certificates “will help boost tourism and the economies that rely heavily on it”, while Europe’s aviation sector urged EU governments to ensure the passes are operational in time for the peak of the summer travel season.

The commission proposed that all vaccines rubberstamped by the European Medicines Agency should be automatically recognised, but also offered governments the possibility to include vaccines like Russia’s Sputnik or China’s Sinovac, which have not received EU market authorisation.

The EC guaranteed “a very high level of data protection” and said the certificates will be issued in digital format to be shown on smartphones or paper.

EU officials also hope vaccine certificates will convince the member states which have introduced travel restrictions aimed at slowing down the pace of new infections to lift their measures.

The commission has previously warned six countries that their travel-limiting measures, which in Belgium go as far as a ban on non-essential trips, could undermine the core EU principle of free travel and damage the single market.

Officials said the certificates should be suspended once the World Health Organisation declares the end of the Covid-19 pandemic.

If agreed by the EU leaders, the proposal will need to be approved by EU legislators.


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