The decision by the European Commission to back the creation of a Covid-19 certificate to allow EU citizens travel to other member states without the need to quarantine on arrival has been welcomed by the travel industry in Ireland.
If adopted, the so-called digital green certificate will be valid in all EU Member States and offer digital proof that a person has either been vaccinated against Covid-19, received a negative test result or recovered from the virus.
It forms an integral part of the European Commission strategy on ‘A common path to a safe and sustained re-opening’. The Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA) welcomed the proposal.
Its chief executive Pat Dawson described it as the “first step towards a common path to a safe and sustained re-opening of the travel industry, ensuring the safe movement of people from EU country to country, whether a business or leisure traveller”.
He said the “next step would be for the Government “to move fast and start preparing for opening up safely.”
He expressed the hope that the Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan would respond “positively to this move” and called on him to meet with the ITAA and others involved in the industry “to plan a strategy on the reopening of our country and air routes.”
Mr Dawson stressed that he was “not encouraging anyone to travel at the moment or to consider travel until Public Health says otherwise. However, we have been calling on Government for pre-departure airport testing for months. Travel is not just ‘bucket and spades’ leisure holidays. It is also corporate travel and for those who need to visit friends and relatives.”
Under the proposal national governments will be in charge of issuing the Digital Green Certificates. They will be accepted in all EU Member States with a view to ensuring restrictions currently in place are lifted in a coordinated manner.
When travelling, every EU citizen or third-country national legally staying or residing in the EU, with a Digital Green Certificate, should be exempted from free movement restrictions in the same way as citizens of the Member State.
If a Member State continues to require holders of a Certificate to quarantine or test, it must notify the Commission and all other Member States and justify this decision.
EU countries have struggled to find common ground over plans for an EU vaccine “passport”, with countries led by France arguing that such measures would discriminate against those last in line for vaccines.
Tourism-reliant member states such as Greece have led the push for a common framework to facilitate travel ahead of the summer season.
Officials at the Commission have stressed the certificate will not be a “passport” but a common system to help governments co-ordinate travel measures as vaccination programmes are rolled out.
The proposal is subject to agreement from a majority of member states and the European Parliament.
The chairperson of the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation, Ruth Andrews also welcomed the proposal.
Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland radio programme on Wednesday, Ms Andrews said a co-ordinated and transparent approach to easing international travel restrictions is “vital”.
The Irish tourism federation has been pushing for more international co-operation with regard to Covid-19 testing requirements for travel, and the vaccines against the disease present the EU with new opportunities, she said.
“Now with the advent of the vaccines . . . it is even more important that we have that co-ordinated, pan-European approach to allow people to get moving again and to enable tourism, which has taken the greatest hit globally and here in Ireland of any industry [as a result of the pandemic],” she said.
A group of aviation professionals said the digital green certificates could form an “essential part” of the plan for the recovery of Irish aviation.
Simon Croghan, of Recover Irish Aviation, said it is "vital that the Irish Government plays a pivotal role within the EU in formulating a comprehensive plan to enable the safe return of aviation both within and outside the EU".
The aviation grouping is also calling for a package of financial supports and for the Government to put forward a phased plan containing “clearly defined public health milestones” that the industry can be guided by.
“There is no meaningful support being offered to airlines [here], unlike in almost all other EU countries,” Mr Croghan said.
To be ready before the summer tourism season, the proposal for the certificates needs a swift adoption by the European Parliament and the European Council, the commission has said.
The certificates would be valid in all EU member states. They would be available to all EU citizens, and their family members, who meet the criteria, regardless of nationality, and also to non-EU nationals who live in the EU. They would include a QR barcode to ensure security and authenticity of the document.
The European Commission’s vice-president for values and transparency, Vera Jourová, said the pass proposal offers an “EU-wide solution” to support free movement of people within the 27 nations. She said the certificate is a “good message in support of recovery”.
The documents would not be a precondition to free movement, the commission has said. To prevent discrimination against unvaccinated individuals, the certificates would not solely focus on vaccinations, but also on Covid-19 test results and proof of recovery from the virus.
Only vaccines authorised for use across the EU will be recognised by the certificates, but individual member states could decide to certify those who have received vaccines from other makers, such as producers based in Russia or China. The certificates would contain only essential information and personal data, such as name, date of birth, date of issuance, and relevant information about a person's Covid-19 vaccination status, test result, or proof of recovery from the virus, according to the commission.