Analysis: Could Covid-19 certificates be our ticket to EU travel this summer?

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Analysis: Could Covid-19 Certificates Be Our Ticket To Eu Travel This Summer?
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Muireann Duffy

Facing into a second summer dampened by the presence of Covid-19, the question of international travel is once again being raised in the EU.

'Digital Green Certificates' are the latest option being explored by EU decision-makers, but could they make international travel a possibility this summer?

What is the new system being considered?

The new system hopes to allow for greater travel between EU member states by allowing EU citizens the ability to gain a certificate prior to their journey.

Under the proposed measures, people will be able to gain a certificate if they meet any one of the three specified criteria:

  1. They can provide proof of being inoculated against Covid-19.
  2. They have recently tested negative for the virus prior to their journey.
  3. They have recently recovered from the virus, and therefore should have a level of immunity.

Those who have a Covid travel certificate would not be required to isolate upon arrival, which would be more conducive to non-essential journeys, such as holidays.

Will any Covid vaccine do?

That point is up for debate.

A draft proposal on the matter said the system would allow for all vaccines approved by the European regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

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Currently, the EMA has approved four vaccines for use in the EU; Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca/Oxford, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

However, the draft also suggested that individual member states may be permitted to allow passengers who have been inoculated using a vaccine that is approved in that country, even if it is not approved by the EMA.

An example of this is the Sputnik V vaccine which is currently being assessed as part of a rolling review by the EMA, but has already been approved and is being administered in Hungary and Slovakia.

Does this mean you won't be able to travel if you don't meet the travel certificate criteria?

It has not yet been specifically addressed, but it is highly unlikely that only those who qualify for a certificate would be permitted to travel, as that would constitute a breach of the freedom of movement between member states guaranteed to EU citizens.

Ireland South MEP Billy Kelleher previously told Breakingnews.ie that travel certificates would not be mandatory, giving individuals free choice.

Some people have raised concerns that it will force people to take vaccines, it won’t.

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"I don’t think it would infringe on rights. Some people have raised concerns that it will force people to take vaccines, it won’t," Mr Kelleher said.

With the inclusion of the ability to produce a negative Covid-19 test upon arrival, or proof that they have recently recovered from the virus, citizens will not be forced to receive the vaccine in order to travel.

If they cannot meet any of the specified criteria for the certificate, they will likely be subject to existing quarantine or testing requirements which have already been adopted in EU countries.

Who is deciding whether this system will be adopted?

The proposed system must first be approved at an EU level before it can be adopted by individual member states.

On Monday, Ireland South MEP Deirdre Clune confirmed Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are expected to vote on fast-tracking the approval process for the travel certificates during a plenary session which will be held on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

Prior to this vote, the director of the EMA, Emer Cooke and the EU's Committee on Public Health will discuss the rollout of vaccines, which may also have a bearing on any future plans for non-essential travel.

Who will be able to get these certificates and where can we go?

If the certificates are approved by the EU and adopted by member states, EU citizens who meet the criteria will be able to receive a certificate.

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It has not yet been determined whether non-EU citizens resident in an EU member state will be included in the new system, or people resident in the EU on international visas.

A map of EU member states. Image: Europa.eu

In terms of where passengers can go, it may depend on what EU member states decide to sign up to the new system.

While the tourism sector has suffered hugely due to international travel restrictions, there is a recognition that non-essential travel poses an unnecessary risk of importing Covid-19 cases and the dreaded new variants.

An EU approach may be a good way to test the waters for international travel before countries go opening their boarders to the wider world, but EU leaders will want to be sure the rollout of the vaccine is robust enough to ensure the resumption of non-essential travel does not lead to another surge in cases across the continent.

Are airlines onboard?

As the proposal is only being considered by EU officials, it's still early days.

However, somewhat jumping the gun, Ryanair have already launched a new Covid document wallet in their app, which allows passengers to upload relevant documentation, such as negative test results or proof of vaccination, so they can be shown to the relevant authorities upon arrival.

Given the near collapse of the international travel sector due to the pandemic, it's likely airline and ferry companies will be champing at the bit to have the travel certificate approved if it may lead to them being able to get people moving once again.

If it's approved, when could we be jetting off?

If the proposal gets through the EU, passengers could be making the most of it in a few months time.

A statement from Ms Clune on Monday said European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen had requested MEP's approve the fast-tracking of the proposal this week to allow for it to be adopted by June, which could see it "be put into use for the summer travel season", Ms Clune added.

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