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EU Leaders Mull Coronavirus Vaccine Certificates In Bid to Boost Travel

EU coronavirus travel
Tourists flock at the archeological site of Knossos, Crete, before the pandemic. Credit: Marc Ryckaert (MJJR), CC BY 3.0/Wikimedia commons

Reacting in time to enable European and UK travelers to get their trips lined up for the summer, EU leaders have agreed to discuss the possible issuance of coronavirus vaccine certificates when they meet on Thursday.

Southern European countries that are heavily tourism-dependent, including Greece, are banking on some version of a certificate or “vaccine passport” to allow people to move freely this summer without fears of quarantines or other border restrictions.

Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis was once of the most vocal proponents of the concept, saying that such a system was needed in order for tourism to begin to approach normal levels in the summer of 2021 after a devastating 2020.

Rebound desperately needed after deep recession of 2020

The lockdowns which were called to help halt the spread of the virus caused the deepest recession since the economic bust of the last decade in Greece and had similar repercussions Europe-wide, but the situation was exceptionally difficult for Southern European nations.

France and Germany appear to be putting the brakes on such an option, however, saying that the certificate would mean that the system would create an obligation to be vaccinated and therefore would bar those who refuse to be inoculated from traveling.

The French government of Emmanuel Macron has promised that vaccines will not be made mandatory, and a French official was quoted as saying on Wednesday that any “vaccine passport” was “premature.”

A great deal of detail is in the offing if the EU decides to go through with the concept, including whether or not the document should be digital, such as the certificate Greece has created, and whether or not it will be global in nature.

Working statement says vaccine certificates will be discussed

Leaders must also agree whether to issue the certificates if both doses of the vaccine are issued or if just one is received, as in the case of the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine candidate, which may be available soon.

A working statement for the leaders that was seen by Reuters said “We call for work to continue on a common approach to vaccination certificates.” The videoconference will begin on Thursday, but there was no timeframe given in the statement.

On Wednesday, officials stated that the EU was working with the International Air Transport Association, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the World Health Organization in order to firm up plans for the reopening of travel this spring and summer.

The certificates may have legal ramifications as well, since it is possible that those who will be last in line for the precious inoculations may not get their shots in time to leave for their vacations this Spring.

In addition, officials must also grapple with the medical uncertainty regarding whether or not those who have been vaccinated can still pass the virus on to others.

It is still unclear if people who already had the virus can remain immune forever, or be immune to different strains of the virus, and how these individuals would go about receiving a certificate.

“There are still many things we don’t know,” a senior official from one of the EU member states said. “We need more time to come to a common line.”

Greece, Israel, Cyprus already onboard

Earlier in February, Greece and Israel signed a deal to ease travel restrictions to Greece for Israelis who could prove they had been inoculated. Israel and Cyprus followed suit this past week with an agreement between themselves for free passage for those who had been vaccinated.

Iceland was the very first nation in Europe to issue vaccine certificates, creating their own document in late January. On Tuesday, Greece unveiled a digital vaccination certificate for those who have received two doses of the vaccine.

The other countries that are known to be issuing or interested in issuing vaccine certificates at the present time include Cyprus, Sweden, Estonia, Denmark, Spain, Portugal, Italy, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already announced that his government would consider “status certificates” regarding vaccination as one way to open up tourism once again.

But Johnson also addressed the issues of privacy and exclusion brought about by such vaccine passport, saying that any review of such a system would keep in mind “the many concerns surrounding exclusion, discrimination and privacy.”

Certificate will negate the need for quarantines

Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis already floated the idea of vaccination certificates earlier this year.

“A vaccination certificate will allow you to enter Greece without having to show a negative Covid test or undergo quarantine restrictions,” Mitsotakis explained in a Bloomberg television interview.

“And we intend to continue in the same context in which we agreed in principle with Israel. This vaccination certificate will be accepted, with the aim of facilitating travel from Israel to Greece,” he noted.

“People will want to travel. For me it does not make sense not to facilitate travel – to the extent of course that we will feel comfortable welcoming those who have been vaccinated,” he added.

“For those who have not been vaccinated, the most likely scenario is that they will be asked for some form of negative test.

“But for those who have been vaccinated, we want to make it as easy as possible for them to travel to Greece.

“We need to move more quickly”

In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Greek Tourism Minister Harry Theocharis called on EU leaders to “move more quickly” to embrace the vaccine certificates.

“Looking at the reaction of some countries to vaccination certificate proposals, I feel there’s a lot of short-sightedness. There’s more to be done now to prepare ourselves,” Theocharis told the British paper.

“Some countries are very much preoccupied with the now,” he pointed out, as northern European nations, in particular, were unwilling to look ahead and plan for an economic recovery in the summer.

However, he urged “We need to move more quickly.”

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