The European Union wants to develop a coronavirus vaccine certificate that could be a vital lifeline for the tourist season, but drawing up the system will require at least three months, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.
Debate about certificate-holders
On top of a great deal of technical work, “there are still a number of open political questions,” the EU executive chief told reporters following a videoconference.
EU governments are still in debate with each other and domestically about whether being inoculated against Covid-19 should grant certificate-holders perks like travel, meals out or cinema trips.
While there is “more and more convergence” among the 27 leaders on setting up a vaccination certificate scheme, for now the main priority remains accelerating their inoculation drives, European Council President Charles Michel said at the same press conference.
Safe the tourism sectors
It remains to be seen whether this pace will be enough to satisfy leaders in the continent’s south, whose starved tourism sectors are urging for a quick as possible return to holidaymaking.
The bloc is split between member states like France and Germany, which are more reluctant to start linking shots to travel rights, while another camp, led by Greece and Cyprus, is keen to move forward more quickly.
Nicosia has already signed a deal with Israel allowing citizens who’ve had the jab in for holidays from April 1.
Before talks began, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that if the bloc can’t agree on benefits for people who are vaccinated, tested or immune from a coronavirus infection, his nation and like-minded countries will soon go ahead with such measures.
“I think that this project has to be implemented in spring – if not in all of Europe, we will have to do it on a national level, and with agreements with other countries that have similar policies,” he told a press conference.
He stressed that his planned “digital green passport” on people’s mobile phones could offer access to restaurants, cultural events, sports and tourism, not only for those who have received Covid-19 shots, but for everyone with a recent negative test.
How does herd immunity work?
Wish to get back to normality
Countries with major tourism industries, like Austria, Greece, Italy and Spain, are mulling similar ideas, he said.
After the conclusion of talks, Kurz tweeted: “We want to get back to normality as quickly as possible… Now the priority is to implement the green pass as quickly as possible.”
However, the science on whether vaccinated people can still infect others is not yet decisive, von der Leyen stressed, despite promising studies out of Israel.
Moreover, with shots in short supply, there are also concerns about fairness.
Just over 6 per cent of the EU population has had at least one dose so far, according to figures compiled by theUniversity of Oxford’s Our World in Data project.
“Vaccine passports” could also exclude those unwilling or unable to get a shot.
While the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic should be over by summer, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, inoculations might have to continue for much longer because of emerging mutations.
Countries must be prepared “to carry out the anti-coronavirus vaccinations for many years to come,” she said.
Nonetheless, there is reason for optimism: The EU should have 50 million doses of Covid-19 shots delivered by the end of this week, von der Leyen said.
At present, discussions on a vaccine passport are focussed on how to mutually recognize vaccination or testing certificates. Many are keen to see a global framework in place, to ensure any EU certification scheme could also function elsewhere.
The 27 leaders agreed that restrictions on non-essential travel should stay in place for the time being.
But a more contentious issue under discussion was internal border closures.
The European Commission chided Germany, Belgium, Hungary, Denmark, Sweden and Finland earlier this week for sealing off frontiers to neighbours within the EU free movement area in a bid to curb the spread of new coronavirus variants.
Rather than resorting to unilateral closures, the EU executive arm is pushing member states to stick to shared travel rules within the bloc agreed just a few weeks ago, based on shared risk assessments.