EU to lift restrictions on "well-vaccinated" nations in latest plot that ignores the public health value of innate immunity
European Union nations are expected to adopt uniform entry requirements
that will allow fully vaccinated tourists from low-risk countries to enter France, Spain, Italy and other hotspots in the bloc.
The United States and the United Kingdom are expected to be included in the EU's expanded green list as the bloc's ambassadors lean in favor of confirming a European Commission proposal to lift restrictions on well-vaccinated nations.
Last month, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that fully vaccinated American tourists would be allowed to visit the bloc this summer
, though she did not specify an exact date. "The Americans, as far as I can see, use European Medicines Agency-approved vaccines. This will enable free movement and the travel to the European Union," she said.
She noted that the U.S. was "on track" and making "huge progress" with its campaign to reach herd immunity – the vaccination of 70 percent of adults – by mid-June.
Non-essential travel to the EU has been officially banned with the exception of visitors from a shortlist of countries with very low caseloads of the virus, including Australia, New Zealand and South Korea.
But diplomats from EU's tourist destination countries have argued for weeks that the bloc's criteria for determining whether a country is a "safe" origin purely based on low cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) are fast becoming irrelevant. This, they say, is because of the progress made by vaccination campaigns in the U.S., UK and some other countries.
EU set to rollout digital vaccine passport
The EU is working on a coordinated response, including the rollout of a digital vaccine passport. The latter will provide proof via a QR code that a person been vaccinated with an EU-approved vaccine – either Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca – has had a recent negative test result or has recovered from the virus. The vaccine passport is expected to be in place
by the end of June or earlier.
"It will be ready for summer to facilitate safe traveling, so it will be ready to use by the end of June," said Christian Wigand, a European Commission spokesman.
Another spokesman, Johannes Bahrke, added that 18 EU countries plus non-member Iceland would test the digital vaccine passport over the next two weeks.
The EU digital vaccine passport will initially be used only for travel within the European bloc. But the European Commission is working on it being mutually recognized with certificates from non-EU countries, particularly the U.S.
France, Malta and the Netherlands are among the countries test piloting the EU's health pass. The test involves making sure that digital keys used to authenticate the passes work correctly, and that it is interoperable across different countries' systems.
The digital pass, while mostly designed to be accessed via a smartphone app, also has to be available in paper form. The technology was developed by German companies T-Systems and SAP. A vaccine passport would contain digital proof of whether a bearer has been successfully tested and vaccinated.
"All member states will connect to the system during June, most of them at the mid-June," Bahrke said.
UK's NHS app updated to become vaccine passport
Member states are also expected to prepare digital portals that will allow Britons to use the National Health Service
(NHS) app as a vaccine passport. (Related: UK vaccine records to be linked with travel passports, but they dare not call them "vaccine passports."
It comes following a change to the NHS app that allows people to prove whether they have had the COVID-19 vaccine – effectively making it a vaccine passport. The change has Members of Parliament and privacy campaigners in the UK voicing fears that such a system could be discriminatory and a breach of human rights.
The app, which is separate from the NHS COVID-19 app for contact tracing, can already be used to request repeat prescriptions, book doctor appointments and view medical records. The updated app is designed to allow people to meet foreign countries' requirements for visitors.
But Britons are still not encouraged to travel. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Britons should not travel to amber or red list countries or territories unless they have "an exceptional reason."
The amber, red and green lists reflect the risks of infection associated with specific countries. Traveling from a country in the amber list means that you have to quarantine at home when you return, the red list means you have to quarantine in a hotel when you return and the green list means the place is safe to travel and you don't need to quarantine when you return.
British government urged to open up air travel
British Airways Chairman and CEO Sean Doyle called on the British government to open up air travel to low-risk countries. Doyle also noted that data on vaccination and infection rates for countries including the U.S., Spain and Greece made a "compelling case" for putting them on the green list for quarantine-free travel from early next month. The U.S., Spain and Greece are currently on UK's amber list.
Britain lifted a ban on international
travel on Monday, May 17, but the government has designated only 12 countries and territories safe for quarantine-free travel on its green list. Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the quarantine-free travel green list will not be expanding "very rapidly."
Heathrow had 11,000 people flying out during the limited reopening on Monday. This was up from 7,000 a day last week but well below the 120,000 typical at this time of year pre-pandemic. (Related: Heathrow Airport in London testing covid-19 "passport technology" that will force air travelers to submit to vaccines
"We will certainly be making sure that people traveling abroad will be subject to all the tests and constraints to prevent the virus from being reimported," Johnson said.
"That's why it's such a tiny list of countries and I don't expect we will be adding to it very rapidly. We will be maintaining a very, very tough border regime for the foreseeable future. It is just too early to talk about exactly what the summer will be like."
At least 18 airport executives signed a letter urging Johnson to initiate "a more meaningful restart of travel."
"We believe the current extremely limited green list of countries demonstrates that the UK is being overly cautious and will fail to grasp the opportunities resulting from the successful rollout of the vaccine," they wrote.
"There are a million jobs in aviation, with a further half a million jobs relying on aviation in the tourism sector. This is quite apart from the many sectors that need aviation in order to trade with both existing and new, developing markets. With the current restrictions the government is applying, those jobs remain at very high risk."
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