The 27 Members States of the European Union want to relax travel restrictions for people coming from non-EU countries who are fully vaccinated as well as expand the list of non-EU countries with a good epidemiological situation from where travel is permitted.
1. Relaxing restrictions
At the moment non-essential travel to the EU is only possible for residents of ten countries considered “safe”, although essential travel, such as for diplomats and doctors, is still possible. However, yesterday the ambassadors of the 27 Member States showed their support for a proposal put forward by the Commission to relax entry restrictions for travellers coming from non-EU countries who are fully vaccinated with an EU authorised Covid-19 vaccine, according to a spokesperson. Additionally, as spokesperson Christian Wigand said, “The Council should also soon expand the list of non-EU countries with a good epidemiological situation from where travel is permitted based on the new criteria agreed today.”
Therefore, The Council today adopted an amending recommendation on the temporary restriction on non-essential travel into the EU, an amendment which responds to the ongoing vaccination campaigns by introducing certain waivers for vaccinated persons and easing the criteria to lift restrictions for third countries.
We welcome the @EUCouncil agreement on updating the approach to travel from outside the EU.— European Commission 🇪🇺 (@EU_Commission) May 19, 2021
The Council now recommends that EU countries ease some of the current restrictions, in particular for those vaccinated with an authorised vaccine.@ChristianWigand ↓ pic.twitter.com/hCVKxe2Pw2
2. Managing the risk
At the same time the amendment takes into account the possible risks posed by new variants by setting out an emergency brake mechanism to quickly react to the emergence of a variant of interest or concern in a third country. “We welcome this agreement,” Wigand said, highlighting that it comes less than two weeks after the Commission’s proposal. “This will help progressively resuming international inbound travel where it is possible to do so safely, while at the same time ensuring quick action to counter the spread of new virus variants,” he said.
Where the epidemiological situation of a third country or region worsens quickly, in particular if a variant of concern or of interest has been detected, member states should adopt an urgent, temporary restriction on all travel into the EU. This emergency brake should not apply to EU citizens, long-term EU residents and certain categories of essential travellers, who should nevertheless be subject to appropriate testing and quarantine measures, even if fully vaccinated. When a member state applies such restrictions, the member states meeting within the Council should urgently review the situation in a coordinated manner and in close cooperation with the Commission. Such restrictions should be reviewed at least every two weeks.
3. Criteria to lift restrictions for all travellers from a third country
For restrictions on non-essential travel to be lifted for a given third country, under the new rules the number of COVID-19 cases per 100 000 inhabitants over the last 14 days is raised from 25 to 75. The progress in having the population vaccinated against the virus should also be taken into account. At the same time, to respond to the risk posed by new variants, the detection in a country of variants of interest should now be considered together with variants of concern. Other existing criteria continue to apply, including a stable or decreasing trend of new cases, the number of tests performed, a 4% positivity rate among all tests carried out, the overall response to COVID-19 in the country and the reliability of the available information. Reciprocity should continue to be taken into account on a case by case basis.
4. Lifting of restrictions for vaccinated persons
If member states accept proof of vaccination to waive travel restrictions such as testing or quarantine, they should in principle lift restrictions on non-essential travel for third-country travellers who have received the last recommended dose of an EMA approved vaccine at least 14 days before arrival. Member states could also lift the restriction on non-essential travel to those who have received at least 14 days before the last recommended dose of a vaccine having completed the WHO emergency use listing process. Where lifting these restrictions, member states should take into account reciprocity on a case by case basis.
Once adopted, the digital green certificate regulation will provide the basis, through a Commission implementing act, for treating third country vaccination certificates equivalent to digital green certificates. Until then, member states should be able to accept third country certificates containing at least a minimum data set, in accordance with national law and taking into account the need to be able to verify the authenticity, validity and integrity of the certificate.
5. Only a recommendation
So far it is only a recommendation from the Commission, and Member States have the final say on who they allow into their territory, although they are trying to coordinate their decisions on entry from non-EU countries as much as possible due to the fact that there are in principle no border controls within the EU/Schengen area.