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An EU-wide Covid certificate to make travel easier takes effect on Thursday, just in time for the busy summer vacation period in Europe, but the more infectious Delta variant is already threatening to curtail its use.
The EU document – essentially a QR code available digitally on smartphones or in print – indicates whether the carrier is vaccinated with one of the EU-approved vaccines (from BioNTech / Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson), has recovered from an infection, or has a recent negative Covid test.
Under EU law, the certificate is intended to eliminate the need for quarantine or additional testing when traveling between the 27 EU countries or four associated European countries (Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein).
EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said he expected all EU member states to be connected from Thursday. Only Ireland, which was hit by a cyberattack on its health service in May, will be left behind.
On Wednesday, 21 EU countries already accepted the certificate, including the main tourist destinations France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Croatia.
“We recommend that all member states use such a tool not only for the law on free movement … but also for all possible national uses, for other purposes: going to concerts, festivals, theaters, restaurants, ”Reynders said. .
But an increase in the Delta variant, first detected in India and now endemic in former EU member Britain, could trigger an “emergency brake” provision suspending its acceptance.
Already, Germany has announced a ban on inbound travelers from Portugal, where the Delta variant has become dominant. Only its own citizens or residents are exempt if they self-quarantine for two weeks.
The Berlin decision angered Brussels, Reynders declaring “we should avoid travel bans” within the EU and stressing that Germany should have consulted its partners first.
– The problem of the British Delta –
Britain’s surprising rise in Delta infections – it now has a sliding two-week infection rate more than seven times that of the EU – is causing deep concern on the continent.
At an EU summit last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized southern EU countries – desperate for tourist money – for clearing Britons with little or no Covid checks.
This week, Portugal, Spain and Malta all sharply increased restrictions for travelers from Britain, emphasizing full vaccination for entry.
Beyond the EU certificate, Brussels urges all member states to only allow fully vaccinated travelers from outside the bloc, or those with urgent reasons to visit.
But, unlike the certificate, these are only “directions” that can be ignored.
Even the EU certificate may not be the last straw many are hoping for.
“There is no doubt that the tourism industry could benefit from a boost in time for the summer season,” economic research consultancy Capital Economics said in a note.
But he predicts that the EU certificate “will have very little impact on European tourism this year,” observing that “most adults are not fully vaccinated and the Delta variant makes people and governments more careful. “.
– Airlines are worried –
The airlines grouped together in an umbrella lobby group, A4E, have expressed concern that an “inconsistent approach” between EU countries when reviewing the EU’s Covid certificate could create lengthy queues at airports with the potential to “create new health risks”.
They demanded that certificates be verified online before travelers even arrive at the airport.
Reynders responded by saying that the European Commission stood ready to help with technical implementation, but pointed out that the fact that there was an EU certificate rather than 27 nationals has already made travel in the country much easier. block.
Overall, EU governments are gauging the public’s desire for a summer break after a difficult year of restrictions against a race between vaccination and the Delta variant.
AFP statistics bringing together official health data from across the EU show that 50.4% of the population in the block has now received at least one dose of the vaccine (compared to 65.7% in Britain).
So far 32.7% in the EU are considered fully vaccinated.
Covid experts initially thought that “herd immunity” could be achieved with 70% of a population fully vaccinated, but now judge that it would take 80% or more immunized, given Delta’s infectivity and the fact that vaccines are less effective against it.
© 2021 AFP