BRUSSELS — The European Commission has laid out its proposal for issuing certificates that would allow EU residents to travel freely across the 27-nation bloc by summer 2021, as long as they have been vaccinated, tested negative for COVID-19 or have recovered from the disease.
The news follows up on EC President’s Ursula von der Leyen March 1 tweet: “We’ll present this month a legislative proposal for a Digital Green Pass. The aim is to provide: Proof that a person has been vaccinated; Results of tests for those who couldn’t get a vaccine yet; Info on COVID-19 recovery. It will respect data protection, security and privacy.”
The plan for the Digital Green Certificates program is on the agenda for discussion during a summit of EU leaders next week.
“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.”
Not every country in Europe is onboard, however. While the travel industry and southern European countries with tourism-dependent economies like Greece and Spain have pushed for the quick introduction of a program that would help eliminate quarantines and testing requirements for tourists, several other EU members, including France, argue that it would be premature and discriminatory to introduce such passes since a large majority of EU citizens haven’t had access to vaccines so far.
Working towards a compromise, the EC has suggested delivering free Digital Green Certificates to EU residents who can prove they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, as well as to those who have tested negative for the virus or can prove they recovered from it.
“Being vaccinated will not be a precondition to travel,” the EC 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.”
The EC has said that “a very high level of data protection will be ensured” and said the certificates will be issued in digital format to be shown either on smartphones or paper.
The EC also said the certificates should be suspended once the WHO declares the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If agreed by the EU leaders, the proposal will need to be approved by EU lawmakers to enter into force.
THE CANADIAN GOVERNMENT’S POSITION ON VACCINATION PASSPORTS
While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau started 2021 opposed to the concept of vaccination passports, in recent weeks he’s signalled that he’s leaving the door open to the possibility.
On March 12, asked about Canada’s stance on vaccination passports, Trudeau said: “This is something countries are actively exploring. And we are among those countries.”
He was careful to distinguish between vaccination passports for international travel, and proof of vaccination for use domestically, i.e. for everyday activities here in Canada. When it comes to certification of vaccinations for international travel, “that’s something that has existed for a long time,” said Trudeau. “This is a well-established practice.”
PROOF OF VACCINATION IS GOOD ENOUGH FOR ICELAND, AND GREECE
Meanwhile today Iceland announced that starting March 18 everyone who has been vaccinated against COVID-19 will be allowed to travel to Iceland without being subject to PCR testing and quarantine, including all U.S. citizens.
The announcement, coming via the Visit Iceland tourism board, says travellers must provide proof of full vaccination with a vaccine that has been certified for use by the European Medical Agency such as Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson’s single dose, and Moderna vaccines, as well as requirements defined by the Chief Epidemiologist of Iceland and Icelandic regulations.
The exemption also applies to those, including U.S. citizens, who can provide valid proof of prior infection. Documentation on prior infections must be in accordance with the requirements defined by the Chief Epidemiologist.
“We are excited to safely reopen our borders to fully vaccinated U.S. citizens, as well as those who are no longer susceptible to the virus,” said Sigríður Dögg Guðmundsdóttir, Head of Visit Iceland. “Tourism is a very valuable industry for Iceland, as it contributes to our economy and culture. With the support of approved vaccines, the targeted measures taken by Icelandic officials, experts, scientists, and the general population to continuously keep the infection rate down, as well as a focused reopening plan designed to keep the Icelandic people and tourists healthy, we are now able to safely extend an exemption to U.S. travelers.”
Previously, only citizens of the EU/EEA who showed a negative PCR test prior to their departure to Iceland, a negative PCR test at the border followed by a five-day quarantine, and a third negative test after quarantine, were allowed to enter the country. Iceland has also maintained a policy of exempting from all border measures those who have presented proof of vaccination or prior infections issued in the EU/EEA.
“Our experience and data so far indicate that there is very little risk of infection stemming from individuals who have acquired immunity against the disease, either by vaccination or by prior infection,” says Thórólfur Gudnason Chief Epidemiologist in a statement issued by the Icelandic government on March 17. “When people are protected against the same disease, with the same vaccines that are produced by the same companies, there is no medical reason to discriminate on the basis of the location where the shot is administered. Our experience shows that the risk of infection from vaccinated individuals is very small or negligible.” Information for travellers regarding COVID-19 measures and guidance in Iceland is available at www.covid.is and www.government.is/.
There’s also news that Greece is planning to open to tourists starting May 14. The country currently plans to accept tourists who have been vaccinated, can prove they have antibodies, or present a negative PCR test.
With file from The Associated Press