European Commission recommends easing restrictions on non-essential overseas travel

The move reflects a major improvement in the rollout of the EU vaccination programme and falling Coronavirus infection rates.
Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

04 May 2021

Under plans announced by the Commission on Monday, anyone who has received the last dose of a European Medicines Agency-approved vaccine at least two weeks beforehand will be permitted to travel.

This could be extended to vaccines which have completed the WHO emergency use listing process.

But the proposals will also contain a clause which will allow EU countries to limit travel quickly in response to new variants or a deteriorating health situation in non-EU countries. This would be reviewed every two weeks, said the Commission.

The Commission will also raise the threshold related to the number of new COVID-19 cases used to determine a list of countries from which all travel should be permitted.

The proposal is to increase the threshold of 14-day cumulative COVID-19 case notification rate from 25 to 100. This remains considerably below the current EU average, which is over 420.

A spokesman said the proposal “takes into account the progress of vaccination campaigns and developments in the epidemiological situation worldwide.”

But he warned, “The emergence of Coronavirus variants of concern calls for continued vigilance.”

If Member States decide to waive the requirements to present a negative PCR test and/or to undergo quarantine they should also waive such requirements for vaccinated travellers from outside the EU, says the Commission.

This, it says, should be facilitated once the “Digital Green Certificate” or so-called vaccine passport, becomes operational.

Those travelling for essential reasons, such as healthcare professionals, cross-border workers or seasonal agricultural workers, should continue to be allowed to enter the EU, regardless of whether they are vaccinated or which country they come from.

“Member States must coordinate their responses in a safe manner and ensure the free movement of citizens within the EU. Vaccines and tests must be accessible and free for all citizens. Member States should not introduce further restrictions once the certificate is in force” Juan Fernando López Aguilar, S&D

When the epidemiological situation of a non-EU country worsens quickly and in particular if a variant of concern or interest is detected, a Member State can urgently and temporarily suspend all inbound travel by non-EU citizens resident in such a country.

Speaking on Monday, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it was “time to revive the EU tourism industry and for cross-border friendships to rekindle - safely.”

The EU currently only allows non-essential travel from seven countries.

So far, the EU has approved four vaccines: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Janssen/Johnson & Johnson, which all require two injections for maximum protection, except for the single-dose Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Apart from Bulgaria, Latvia, Croatia and Romania, more than 20 percent of the population in each of the other EU Member States has now received a vaccine.

In Belgium vaccine doses have been administered to 33.7 percent per hundred people, a marked improvement on recent efforts but still far short of the UK where the figure is nearly 78 percent.

In Germany the figure is 36 percent, in the Netherlands 30 percent and in France, 32.7 percent. In Austria it is 35.5 percent and 31 percent in Poland.

This partly reflects improved delivery of vaccines to Member States.

While only 14m doses were delivered to Member States in January, 28m in February and 60m in March, officials said that 105m had arrived in Europe in April.

The Commission has said that it expects around 125m doses this month and 200m in June. The aim is to have 75 percent of the EU population vaccinated by the end of the summer.

Commenting on the current situation, Spanish Socialist MEP Juan Fernando López Aguilar said, “We need to put in place the EU COVID-19 certificate to reestablish people’s confidence when exercising their right to free movement while we continue to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Member states must coordinate their responses in a safe manner and ensure the free movement of citizens within the EU. Vaccines and tests must be accessible and free for all citizens. Member States should not introduce further restrictions once the certificate is in force.”

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