Mar. 19, 2021 -- In an effort to save the summer tourist season, the European Union proposed a COVID-19 certificate on Wednesday that would allow people to travel freely.
The proposed Digital Green Certificate would be free and available in digital or paper formats. It would allow European residents to travel across the 27 member countries if they have proof of vaccination, a negative test result or a documented recovery from COVID-19, according to The New York Times.
The idea is to “gradually restore free movement within the EU and avoid fragmentation,” Didier Reynders, the European commissioner for justice, said in a statement.
Free movement has long been a tenet of the European Union, the Times reported, but the pandemic has led to a patchwork of national travel restrictions. Under the new proposal, governments could decide which restrictions and quarantine measures to lift for travelers who have a certificate. The certificate would also include Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, which are part of the Schengen Area but not the EU.
The proposal will be discussed next week during a summit of European Union leaders, according to NPR. Then the proposal must be approved by the European Parliament and the majority of member states. If approved, the certificates could be available by mid-June.
Several countries have opposed travel certificates over concerns that they could be discriminatory and allow some residents to travel while others can’t, according to the BBC. Some countries have also voiced concerns about data privacy and whether certain vaccines should be included in the approval process. The European Medicines Agency has approved COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca-University of Oxford and Johnson & Johnson but not Russia’s Sputnik V or China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines.
About 10% of European Union residents have been vaccinated, the Times reported, and many European countries are facing another surge in COVID-19 cases amid a slow vaccination rollout. On Wednesday, EU officials acknowledged the slow rollout and said other countries were hoarding doses, particularly Britain.
“We want to see reciprocity and proportionality in exports, and we are ready to use whatever tool we need to deliver on that,” Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the European Commission, said during the meeting.
“This is about making sure that Europe gets its fair share,” she said.
The commission also described a plan to lift lockdown measures this year based on each country’s COVID-19 cases. Decisions will be based on simulations run by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.
“The situation with the virus in Europe is still very challenging,” Stella Kyriakides, the top health official for the EU, said during the meeting.
“It is only through a joint approach that we can return safely to full free movement in the EU,” she said.
The travel certificate wouldn’t change the current rules about external travel, the Times reported. Many countries have restricted nonessential travel and required quarantines with a few exceptions. Travelers who aren’t EU residents could obtain a COVID-19 certificate — but only if their visit to Europe falls under an exception.
Even still, some countries are working on their own deals regarding travel, the newspaper reported. Greece has signed an agreement with Israel and is developing plans with 10 other countries, including Britain, Canada and the U.S.
In the U.K., federal officials are also discussing the best way to reopen travel.
“We are having debates, discussions about travel ... but I think what we also have to do is be driven by the data,” Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary for the U.K., told the BBC. “We’ve got to see how coronavirus develops.”