Starting from February 1, the European Union Member States are advised to remove the current restrictions, which are based on the COVID-19 situation on the traveller’s country of departure and replace them with restrictions based on the traveller’s situation.
On Tuesday, January 25, the EU Council has adopted a new recommendation in another bid to facilitate safe free movement, which guides the Member States to take into account the status of the traveller, instead of his/her country of departure.
The EU Council notes in a press release announcing the recommendation:
“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.”
The recommendation becomes effective next Tuesday, on February 1, on the same day when the Member States shorten the validity of vaccination certificates to 270 days at most, while some of the members are set to make them even shorter.
According to today’s decision of the Council, all restrictions to free movement should be lifted for travellers holding an EU digital COVID certificate that proves the same has been vaccinated with at least two COVID-19 vaccines in the last 270 days, a certificate of recovery from COVID-19 issued in the last 180 days, or a negative result of a test taken in the last 72 hours if it is PCR or the last 24 hours if it is a rapid antigen test.
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Those who do not hold an EU Digital COVID certificate will have to test for COVID-19 24 hours before or after arrival. Exempt are children under the age of 12, as well as those with an essential function or need, and cross-border commuters.
Commenting on the recommendation, the Commissioner for Health, Stella Kyriakides, and Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, said that the move reconfirms that the possession of a valid EU Digital COVID Certificate should be sufficient when travelling during the pandemic.
According to the Commissioner:
“This agreement thus puts the EU Digital COVID Certificate at the heart and centre of our coordinated approach. It is important that the Member States follow up on this agreement and implement the rules agreed without delay.”
It is up to the Member States to apply the recommendation based on their COVID-19 situation, they must discontinue the additional travel measures that have made travel more cumbersome and less predictable across the bloc in the recent weeks due to the spread of the Omicron variant.
In spite of the individual-based approach, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) will continue to weekly update the maps indicating the risk of infections, according to each country’s 14-day vaccine uptake, testing rate, and notification 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,” the Council notes.
The recommendation comes at a time when the World Health Organization (WHO) has asserted that the continent of Europe may be able to end the COVID-19 emergency phase in 2022 due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant, which has turned out to be less severe.
Due to the lower severity of the Omicron variant, a large share of the Member States has recently facilitated travel restrictions by removing testing obligations and shortening quarantine periods, in spite of the spread of Omicron.