The European Union’s executive branch proposed Monday to ease restrictions on travel to the 27-member bloc as COVID-19 vaccination campaigns keep gathering speed.
Travel to the EU is currently extremely limited except for a handful of countries with low coronavirus infection rates. But with the summer season looming, the European Commission hopes that the new recommendations will help dramatically expand that list.
It was unclear which countries would actually make the cut but an EU official who was not authorized to be quoted because the proposal has yet to be adopted said Israel would definitely be on the list.
“The UK, question mark, the US, for the time being, not quite,” he said. “But we see how quickly the situation in the US evolves, notably for the rate of vaccination.”
“The Commission proposes to allow entry to the EU for nonessential reasons not only for all persons coming from countries with a good epidemiological situation, but also all people who have received the last recommended dose of an EU-authorized vaccine,” the EU’s executive arm said.
EU officials believe the COVID-19 vaccination campaigns will soon be “a game-changer” in the fight against the deadly virus, especially within the bloc and the border-free Schengen zone. Its proposal will be discussed with member states’ ambassadors this week and the Commission hopes it could enter into force by June.
Under the EU’s executive arm’s proposal, EU countries should allow travelers from third countries into the EU if they have been vaccinated with serums approved for use in the region. Member states could also individually decide to accept travelers immunized with vaccines listed by WHO for emergency use.
The Commission also proposed to raise the threshold related to the number of new COVID-19 cases used to determine the list of countries from which all travel should be permitted.
“Non-essential travel regardless of individual vaccination status is currently permitted from seven countries with a good epidemiological situation,” the Commission said, proposing to increase the threshold of a 14-day cumulative COVID-19 case notification rate per 100,000 inhabitants from 25 to 100.
“This remains considerably below the current EU average, which is over 420,” the Commission said.
In case the epidemiological situation deteriorates, the Commission proposed to introduce an “emergency brake” mechanism aimed at stopping dangerous virus variants from entering the bloc. “This will allow member states to act quickly and temporarily limit to a strict minimum all travel from affected countries for the time needed to put in place appropriate sanitary measures,” it said.
EU officials and member states are also in discussions to introduce COVID-19 certificates aimed at facilitating travel across the region this summer. The EU’s executive arm has proposed that the so-called digital green certificates should be delivered to EU residents who can prove they have been vaccinated, and also to those who tested negative for the virus or have proof they recovered from it.
“Until the Digital Green Certificate is operational, member states should be able to accept certificates from non-EU countries,” the Commission said, adding that children who are excluded from vaccination should be able to travel with their vaccinated parents if they provide a negative PCR test.
Israel has brought its daily virus caseload down from several thousand to a few dozen with the help of a mass vaccination program that has already inoculated over half of the population using the Pfizer-BioNTech shots.