TALLINN - The European Commission on Thursday proposed to update the rules on coordination of safe and free movement in the EU, which were put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the summer, vaccine uptake has increased significantly and the EU digital COVID-19 certificate has been rolled out successfully, with more than 650 million certificates issued to date. At the same time, the epidemiological situation in the EU continues to develop with some member states taking additional public health measures, including administering booster vaccines, spokespeople for the Commission said.
Taking into account all those factors, the Commission is proposing a stronger focus on a "person-based" approach to travel measures and a standard acceptance period for vaccination certificates of nine months since the primary vaccination series. The nine-month period takes into account the guidance of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) on the administration of booster doses as of six months, and provides for an additional period of three months to ensure that national vaccination campaigns can adjust and citizens can have access to boosters.
The Commission is also proposing updates to the EU traffic light map, as well as a simplified "emergency brake" procedure.
The Commission is also proposing to update the rules on external travel to the EU.
"Since the start of the pandemic, the Commission has been fully active in finding solutions to guarantee the safe free movement of people in a coordinated manner. In light of the latest developments and scientific evidence, we are proposing a new recommendation to be adopted by the Council. Based on our common tool, the EU digital COVID-19 certificate, which has become a real standard, we are moving to a 'person-based' approach. Our main objective is to avoid diverging measures throughout the EU. This also applies to the question of boosters, which will be essential to fight the virus. Among other measures, we propose today that the Council agrees on a standard validity period for vaccination certificates issued following the primary series. Agreeing on this proposal will be crucial for the months ahead and the protection of the safe free movement for citizens," Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders said.
Key updates to the common approach to travel measures within the EU proposed by the Commission are:
- Focus on a ‘person-based approach': a person who has a valid EU digital COVID-19 certificate should in principle not be subject to additional restrictions, such as tests or quarantine, regardless of their place of departure in the EU. Persons without an EU digital COVID-19 certificate could be required to undergo a test carried out prior to or after arrival.
- Standard validity of vaccination certificates: to avoid diverging and disruptive approaches, the Commission proposes a standard acceptance period of nine months for vaccination certificates issued following the completion of the primary vaccination series. The nine-month period takes into account the guidance of the ECDC on the administration of booster doses as of six months, and provides for an additional period of three months to ensure that national vaccination campaigns can adjust and citizens can have access to boosters. This means that, in the context of travel, member states should not refuse a vaccination certificate that has been issued less than nine months since the administration of the last dose of the primary vaccination. Member states should immediately take all necessary steps to ensure access to vaccination for those population groups whose previously issued vaccination certificates approach the nine-month limit.
- Booster shots: as of yet, there are no studies expressly addressing the effectiveness of boosters on transmission of COVID-19 and therefore it is not possible to determine an acceptance period for boosters. However, given the emerging data it can be expected that protection from booster vaccinations may last longer than that resulting from the primary vaccination series. The Commission will closely monitor newly emerging scientific evidence on this issue. On the basis of such evidence, the Commission may, if needed, propose an appropriate acceptance period also for vaccination certificates issued following a booster.
- The EU traffic light map is adapted: combining new cases with a region's vaccine uptake. The map would be mainly for information purposes, but would also serve to coordinate measures for areas with particularly low ("green") or particularly high level ("dark red") of circulation of the virus. For these areas, specific rules would apply by derogation from the "person-based approach". For travelers from "green" areas, no restrictions should be applied. Travel to and from "dark red" areas should be discouraged, given the high number of new infections there, and persons who are neither vaccinated nor have recovered from the virus should be required to undergo a pre-departure test and quarantine after arrival, with special rules for essential travelers and children under 12 years old.
- Exemptions from certain travel measures: should apply for cross-border commuters, children under 12 and essential travelers. The list of essential travelers should be reduced as many travelers included in the current list have had the opportunity to be vaccinated in the meantime.
- Simplified "emergency brake" procedure: the emergency procedure intended to delay the spread of possible new COVID-19 variants or address particularly serious situations should be simplified and more operational. It would include a member state notification to the Commission and the Council and a roundtable at the Council's Integrated Political Crisis Response (IPCR).
To allow for sufficient time for the coordinated approach to be implemented, the Commission proposes that these updates apply as of Jan. 10, 2022.