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26th Jul 2021

Covid-19 certificates back on EU leaders' agenda

  • EU Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič warned that there is not enough scientific evidence to back up Covid-19 passports (Photo: Council of the European Union)

Travel certificates for those vaccinated against Covid-19 will be on the agenda again when EU leaders speak on Thursday (25 February).

EU countries whose economies are dependent on tourism are pushing for the introduction of passports that would allow holiday and business travellers to move between countries.

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The issue was discussed by EU affairs ministers on Tuesday at an informal video-meeting.

"It is important to discuss quite intensively the format, if it's going to be digital, if it going to be physical, what will be inside the vaccination certificate and what is their role," Ana Paula Zacarias, the Portuguese state secretary for EU affairs told journalists the same day.

EU leaders are not expected to make a decision, as France and Germany, as well as other member states, are pushing back against the idea of Covid-19 passports, fearing it would feed anxiety among citizens, and create a two-tier system of rights.

Scientific data have so far also not backed up the idea of safe travel with such passports.

EU Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič said that according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the bloc's agency against infectious diseases, "there is currently no evidence that a vaccinated person cannot still be infected and transmit the disease".

"According to the ECDC there is currently insufficient evidence to exempt travellers with a proof of vaccination from quarantine or testing requirements," the commission vice-president said on Tuesday.

He added that work on such certificates for medical use has been going on at expert level and that countries had agreed on the minimum data sets to use for the documents.

Despite the pressure, EU leaders already discussed the controversial issue in January and are unlikely to come to any conclusion this week.

"It should be clear that being vaccinated must not become a precondition for EU citizens to exercise their fundamental right to free movement, because free movement must remain possible upon the condition of testing or quarantine requirements," Šefčovič also said, voicing the commission's wider concerns.

Greece has been at the forefront of pushing for a document that allowed travel for vaccinated people, but the issue has divided EU countries.

"There are different positions between member states, some express ethical or technical concerns, others would like to move quickly on this," Portugal's Zacarias said, adding that more coordination was needed on the matter.

Tourism is vital to Greece, making up about a fifth of its GDP and employment.

Greece's tourism minister Harry Theocharis has called on EU leaders in the Financial Times to "move more quickly" to embrace the vaccine certificates that could allow mass-scale travel to resume.

EU leaders to discuss vaccine certificates

While some member states hope vaccine certificates could revive tourism, EU officials point out that it is not clear if vaccinated people can still carry the virus and infect others.

EU defends all vaccines, amid lower AstraZeneca take-up

The European Commission said that bloc's strict regulatory process for the evaluation and approval of vaccines is crucial to persuade citizens to get the jab, calling on member states to fight vaccine hesitancy with information.

EU fraud agency warns governments on vaccine scams

OLAF said fraudsters may offer to sell large quantities of vaccines, deliver a sample in order to pocket the first advance payment - and then vanish with the money, or deliver fake vaccines.

First glimpse of new EU 'vaccine certificate' for summer

The European Commission has presented a common approach to vaccine certificates to facilitate travel. All EU-wide approved vaccines will be accepted for this document, but member states can decide to accept other vaccines too.

MEPs raise concerns on vaccine 'travel certificates'

While most MEPs have been vocal in support of the proposal by the European Commission for EU-wide vaccine certificates, key questions remain - ranging from fundamental rights, to its scientific validity.

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