Updating the rules to facilitate safe and free movement in the EU during the pandemic, EU ministers reconfirmed on January 25 the possession of a valid EU Digital COVID Certificate should in principle be sufficient when travelling during the pandemic, Health and Food Commissioner Stella Kyriakides and Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said.
“Since the start of the pandemic, we have put forward solutions to safeguard and facilitate safe and free movement in the context of health measures made necessary by the pandemic. Close coordination at EU level has been essential, not only for the functioning of the Single Market, but in particular to provide clarity and safety for people traveling within the EU,” the Commissioners said in a statement. “Clarity and predictability for our citizens is key to the success of safe travel, through our well-established and very successful EU Digital COVID Certificate,” they added, noting that more than 1.2 billion certificates issued testify to the success of this tool, which has been rolled out across the EU and on a global scale. It is a true European success story that has gone global.
“This agreement thus puts the EU Digital COVID Certificate at the heart and centre of our coordinated approach,” the Commissioner said, stressing that it is important that Member States follow up on this agreement and implement the rules agreed without delay. “Each Member State decides based on the circumstances it is facing. But Omicron has by now spread across Europe and it is time to look at the discontinuation of the additional travel measures that a number of Member States have introduced in the past weeks, making travel more cumbersome and less predictable across the EU,” the Commissioners said, calling on all Member States to implement the common rules swiftly to ensure coordination and clarity for EU citizens and travellers.
According to the EU Council, among the key updates of the recommendation are in principle no additional restrictions for holders of the EU Digital COVID Certificate. Aligning the validity period with the delegated act, 270 days for primary vaccination cycle. Any measures restricting free movement must be non-discriminatory and proportionate, the Council said in a press release, adding that Member States should in principle not refuse entry to persons travelling from other Member States.
The adopted recommendation on a coordinated approach to facilitate safe free movement during the COVID-19 pandemic responds to the significant increase in vaccine uptake and the rapid roll-out of the EU digital COVID certificate and replaces the previously existing recommendation, the Council said, adding that it will enter into force on February 1m 2022, on the same day as a delegated act amending the digital COVID-19 certificate regulation and providing for an acceptance period of 270 days for vaccination certificates.
Under the new recommendation, COVID-19 measures should be applied taking into account the status of the person instead of the situation at regional level, with the exception of areas where the virus is circulating at very high levels, the Council said. This means that a traveller’s COVID-19 vaccination, test or recovery status, as evidenced by a valid EU digital COVID certificate, should be the key determinant. A person-based approach will substantially simplify the applicable rules and will provide additional clarity and predictability to travellers.
Travellers in possession of a valid EU digital COVID certificate should not be subject to additional restrictions to free movement. A vaccination certificate for a vaccine approved at European level if at least 14 days and no more than 270 days have passed since the last dose of the primary vaccination series or if the person has received a booster dose, the EU Council said. Member states could also accept vaccination certificates for vaccines approved by national authorities or the WHO.
A negative PCR test result obtained no more than 72 hours before travel or a negative rapid antigen test obtained no more than 24 hours before travel.
A certificate of recovery indicating that no more than 180 days have passed since the date of the first positive test result.
Persons who are not in possession of an EU digital COVID certificate could be required to undergo a test prior to or no later than 24 hours after arrival. Travellers with an essential function or need, cross-border commuters and children under 12 should be exempt from this requirement.
Map of EU regions
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) should continue to publish a map of member states’ regions indicating the potential risk of infection according to a traffic light system (green, orange, red, dark red), the EU Council said. The map should be based on the 14-day case notification rate, vaccine uptake and testing rate.
Based on this map, member states should apply measures regarding travel to and from dark red areas, where the virus is circulating at very high levels. They should in particular discourage all non-essential travel and require persons arriving from those areas who are not in possession of a vaccination or recovery certificate to undergo a test prior to departure and to quarantine after arrival.
Certain exceptions to these measures should apply to travellers with an essential function or need, cross-border commuters and children under the age of 12.
Under the new recommendation, the emergency brake to respond to the emergence of new variants of concern or interest is strengthened, the Council said. When a member state imposes restrictions in response to the emergence of a new variant, the Council, in close cooperation with the Commission and supported by the ECDC, should review the situation. The Commission, based on the regular assessment of new evidence on variants, may also suggest a discussion within the Council.
During the discussion, the Commission could propose that the Council agree on a coordinated approach regarding travel from the areas concerned. Any situation resulting in the adoption of measures should be reviewed regularly.