The European Commission today proposed updating the rules for coordinating safe and free movement in the European Union, which were drawn up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the summer, vaccine uptake has increased dramatically and the EU’s COVID digital certificate has been successfully rolled out, with more than 650 million certificates issued to date. At the same time, the epidemiological situation in the European Union continues to evolve with some member states taking additional public health measures, including the administration of booster vaccines. Taking into account all these factors, the Committee proposes a stronger focus on a ‘person-based’ approach to travel measures and a standard acceptance period for certificates of vaccination of 9 months since the initial vaccination series. The nine-month period takes into account the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) guidance on administering booster doses from 6 months, and provides for an additional period of 3 months to ensure that national vaccination campaigns can be adjusted and citizens can access the boosters.
The Commission is also proposing updates to the EU traffic light map; In addition to the simplified “emergency brake” procedure.
The Commission is also proposing today to update the rules on external travel to the European Union [press release available as of 14:15].
Didier Reynders, Commissioner for Justice, said: “Since the beginning of the pandemic, the commission has been fully active in finding solutions to ensure the free and safe movement of people in a coordinated manner. In light of the latest developments and scientific evidence, we propose a new recommendation for adoption by the Council. Building on our common tool, the EU COVID Digital Certification, which has become a de facto standard, we are moving to a ‘people-based’ approach. Our main goal is to avoid taking divergent measures across the European Union. This also applies to the issue of reinforcers, which will be necessary to fight the virus. Among other actions, we are today proposing that the Council approve a standard period of validity for vaccination certificates issued after the initial series. Approval of this proposal will be critical for the coming months and protect the freedom and safe movement of citizens.”
Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, added: “The EU’s digital COVID certification and our coordinated approach to travel measures have contributed significantly to safe freedom of movement, while protecting public health as our priority. We have vaccinated more than 65% of the total EU population, but this does not Enough. There are still plenty of unprotected people. For everyone to travel and live as safely as possible, we need to reach significantly higher vaccination rates — urgently. We also need to boost our immunity with booster vaccines. Taking into account guidance from the CDC. And to allow Member States to adjust their vaccination campaigns and to give citizens access to boosters, we are proposing a standard acceptance period for certificates of vaccination. At the same time, we have to continue to strongly encourage everyone to continue to respect public health measures. Our masks need to survive.”
The main updates to the Common Approach to Travel Measures within the European Union proposed by the Commission are:
Focus on the ‘person-based approach’: a person with a valid EU digital COVID certificate must not be subject to additional restrictions, such as tests or quarantine, regardless of where they leave in the EU. Persons who do not have an EU digital COVID certificate may be required to take a test conducted before or after arrival. Standard Validity of Vaccination Certificates: To avoid complex and confusing methods, the FDA proposes a standard acceptance period of 9 months for certificates of vaccination issued after completion of the initial vaccination series. The nine-month period takes into account the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) guidance on administering booster doses from 6 months, and provides for an additional period of 3 months to ensure that national vaccination campaigns can be adjusted and citizens can access the boosters. This means that, in the context of travel, Member States must not refuse a certificate of vaccination that was issued less than 9 months before the last dose of the initial vaccination was given. Member States must immediately take all necessary steps to ensure access to vaccination for those populations whose previously issued vaccination certificates are close to the nine-month limit. Booster Shots: To date, there are no studies that explicitly address the efficacy of boosters in the transmission of COVID-19, and therefore it is not possible to determine the period for accepting boosters. However, given the emerging data, it can be expected that protection from the booster vaccines may last longer than that from the primary vaccination series. The committee will closely monitor the newly emerging scientific evidence on this issue. On the basis of this evidence, the Commission may, if necessary, suggest an appropriate acceptance period also for certificates of vaccination issued after a booster dose. The EU traffic light map has been revised: the combination of new cases and vaccine uptake in the region. The map will be primarily for information purposes, but will also coordinate measures for areas of particularly low (“green”) or high (“dark red”) levels of virus circulation. For these areas, specific rules will apply by not being restricted by the “people-based approach”. For travelers from “green” areas, no restrictions should apply. Travel to and from ‘dark red’ areas should be discouraged, given the large number of new infections there, and people who have not been vaccinated or have recovered from the virus should be required to undergo pre-departure testing and post-arrival quarantine (with special rules for essential travelers and children without age 12 years). Exemptions from certain travel procedures: These must apply to cross-border travelers, children under 12 and essential travellers. The list of essential travelers should be reduced as many travelers on the current list had the opportunity to be vaccinated in the meantime. Simplified “emergency brake” procedure: Emergency procedures aimed at delaying the spread of potential new COVID-19 variants or addressing particularly dangerous situations should be simplified and made more effective. It will include notification of Member States to the Commission and the Council and a Round Table on the Council’s Integrated Political Crisis Response (IPCR).
To allow sufficient time for the implementation of the coordinated approach, the Commission proposes that these updates be implemented as of January 10, 2022.