Brussels proposes to open the EU to vaccinated travelers
Travelers at a baggage counter in Barcelona airport terminal 1 in December 2020.Albert garcia

As vaccination progresses on the planet, the European Commission believes that the time has come to start reopening the external borders of the European Union (EU). With the mind set already on the summer season, and on the reactivation of the world that we knew and was stopped in March 2020, Brussels has approved this Monday a draft recommendation for the Member States to lift the restrictions on non-essential travel for vaccinated people coming to the EU. The decision, according to the Community Executive, has been taken based on the latest scientific opinions that show that immunization helps to break the chain of transmission. The idea is that this proposal, to be agreed by the European Council, the body that represents the 27 member states, should be approved by the end of May, to enter into force at the beginning of June, according to Commission sources.

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The measure, which advances in parallel with the so-called digital green certificate, also known as a vaccination passport and aimed at breaking down the walls of the coronavirus within the EU, proposes that countries “should lift the temporary restriction of non-essential travel to the EU with with regard to third-country nationals (…) who have received the last recommended dose of one of the covid-19 vaccines authorized in the EU ”, at least 14 days before entering the Schengen zone. The regulation, in any case, also aims to go a step further in opening up, opening the borders to travelers from third countries where immunization has been carried out with any of the injections that appear on the emergency use list of the World Health Organization (WHO). Among them are not yet the Russian vaccine Sputnik V or the Chinese Sinovac and Sinopharm.

Brussels also seeks to reopen its borders to those countries with an infection rate of less than 100 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 14 days, whether or not tourists from those territories are immunized. Until now, the EU recommended closing access to those foreign regions with more than 25 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. The objective is “to adjust to the current situation”, according to sources from the Community Executive, who trusts that the change of criteria, inspired by the scientific advice of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), will allow to expand “in a way significant ”the list of candidate countries to access European territory, until reaching nearly a hundred states at the time the new regulation is approved, on the verge of summer. With the current EU thresholds only seven countries are allowed entry for non-essential travel.

A community source assures that Israel would be “safe” in this new list, while the United Kingdom would have to put “an interrogation” and, as for the United States, “it would not yet be entirely”, although it is expected that it will the upcoming weeks. The new epidemiological threshold will continue to be combined, as before, with other criteria such as the ratio of CRP tests per inhabitant and the ratio of positivity of these tests. The measure proposed by the Commission also does not exempt citizens traveling from these third countries from going through other additional requirements such as quarantines on arrival or PCRs at origin, before making the trip.

In the same way that regulations on international trade inspired by the doctrine of free trade are usually deployed, Brussels assures that the new proposal follows the “principle of reciprocity”, with which it hopes “to try to push the largest number of countries to open up.” Although everything indicates that at the beginning of the measures there will be friction and problems to recognize and homologate foreign vaccination certificates, the Commission hopes that a “gradual convergence” will take place little by little.

A female passenger at the French Charles de Gaulle airport.
A female passenger at the French Charles de Gaulle airport.IAN LANGSDON / POOL / EFE

Emergency break

Brussels, in any case, is not entirely confident and foresees that there will be potholes and relapses in the future, caused by new variants of the coronavirus. The Commission proposes to reserve an “emergency brake” to pull when the ECDC identifies these new threats that pose an epidemiological risk to the EU. “It will allow us to be more reactive to anticipate the new variants,” according to a community official. Or if some vaccines don’t work [ante estas variantes]”. The Commission seeks that by activating this emergency trigger “the Member States can adopt, in a coordinated manner, urgent and time-limited measures to react quickly”, according to the text of the proposal. The intention is that the mechanism will make it possible to urgently reimpose restrictions on entry from the affected countries, but setting a coordinated approach for the EU through the Council.

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