The Irish Times view on EU travel plans: Preparing for take-off
Sensible to adjust restrictions as impact of mass vaccination becomes increasingly apparent
EU governments have agreed to allow quarantine-free travel for vaccinated tourists and visitors from countries deemed safe, paving the way for the resumption of hassle-free trans-Atlantic flights. Photograph: Konstantinos Tsakalidis/ Bloomberg
Emerging European Union plans aimed at clearing the way to a resumption of international travel strike a sensible balance between vaccination-enabled easing of restrictions and the caution that is still necessary given high rates of Covid-19 transmission.
Eager to draw the benefits of accelerating vaccination programmes across the union, and under pressure from tourism-dependent member states such as Greece and Spain, the 27 governments have agreed new criteria that would determine which countries are safe to travel to or from.
The plan will allow EU countries to admit visitors from outside the bloc for non-essential travel as long as they have completed their vaccination at least two weeks prior to travel using one of the products approved for use by the European Medicines Agency or the World Health Organisation.
Travellers who have not been vaccinated but are coming from countries on an EU “safe list” would also be allowed to visit for non-essential reasons but may need to show proof of a negative PCR test in the days before travel. The “safe list” will be based on epidemiological criteria and updated regularly. Reports suggest eligibility for the list will be set at a 14-day average of 75 new cases or less per 100,000 people – a bar, incidentally, that most EU states would not be able to clear at present.
As the impact of mass vaccination is increasingly apparent in declining rates of hospitalisation and death, and with transmission reducing in many countries, it makes sense to adjust restrictions accordingly. The resumption of at least some holiday travel will provide a lifeline to the battered economies of southern Europe as well as to the badly-hit airline industry.
But practical problems raised by the latest proposals remain to be resolved. In particular, there is still no internationally-recognised form of vaccination certification. Those issued by many countries are vulnerable to fraud, and the rollout of the planned EU vaccine passport has proven complicated.
Member states would retain wide latitude to reopen at their own pace and by their own criteria. They could still set their own precautionary requirements for incoming travellers, such as testing and quarantine. There would also be a union-wide emergency brake – a legal tool that would allow for the immediate reimposition of strict travel restrictions if a threatening variant or other emergency arose.
That makes sense – states must have the space to adjust restrictions to reflect their epidemiological situations and their national policy preferences – but it means that the EU plan merely formalises the piecemeal approach being taken across the union.