Europe’s Travel Pass at Risk as Italy, Greece Add Hurdles for Vaccinated
(Bloomberg) -- Europe’s system to allow hassle-free travel for people vaccinated against Covid-19 is at risk of breaking down after Italy and Greece imposed their own rules.
The unilateral restrictions, which require PCR tests for incoming travelers, represent another blow for the continent’s battered airlines just before the lucrative holiday season. The new national rules are also another setback for European Union solidarity and come as the bloc’s leaders gather in Brussels for two days of summit meetings.
Leaders are planning to call for nations to coordinate their travel moves and avoid steps that would “disproportionately hamper free movement” within or into the EU, according to the latest draft of their joint communique obtained by Bloomberg. The wording could change after EU leaders meet Thursday.
Finland didn’t go quite as far. The Nordic country will require travelers from outside the EU and the passport-free Schengen area to present a negative test result from the prior 48 hours. The government is still discussing when to begin enforcing the rule, Krista Kiuru, the minister overseeing the pandemic response, said on Tuesday
The moves, which are a response to fears about the fast-spreading omicron variant, undercut a highly praised element of the EU’s response to the pandemic: the digital Covid certificate that helped travel bounce back in Europe this year.
“We need a common approach because crossing the borders, these certificates are the ones that are used,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said in Bloomberg TV interview. “So we definitely need to have a common understanding.”
The EU had been planning to use this week’s summit to get an agreement on augmenting the role of the Covid pass and facilitate travel even further. Instead, the bloc criticized Italy for failing to provide advance notice of its testing requirement, as leaders arrive in Brussels.
EU nations are obliged “to inform the commission and other member states 48 hours in advance whenever they decide to impose additional restrictions,” spokesman Christian Wigand told reporters, adding the notice period was necessary “to maintain a coordinated approach.”
Other EU countries may feel pressure to adopt their own travel restrictions, particularly as omicron cases continue to mount. The variant will likely be dominant in Europe by mid-January, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday, adding that case numbers appear to be doubling every two or three days.
Denmark, which has one of the most rigorous virus-screening programs in Europe, confirmed it’s seeing more than 1,000 daily omicron cases. The U.K. reported 78,610 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, the most since the beginning of the pandemic.
France could unveil new travel restrictions during a government meeting on Friday. Gabriel Attal, spokesman for President Emmanuel Macron’s administration, told reporters that EU coordination is important, but that France has always taken the necessary steps, whether or not the EU has made a decision.
The French government expects to see 4,000 Covid-related patients in ICUs around the holidays, Attal said. That compares with about 2,800 currently. France has reported about 50,000 new daily coronavirus cases on average in the past week, up 11%, he said.
The omicron variant is hitting just as Europe struggles to contain a brutal fourth wave. With hospitals already stretched, European governments are quick to implement restrictions, meaning that travel inside Europe could see even more disruption in the coming days and weeks.
Despite pressure from the EU, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi is expected to defend the new rules and refuse to change them, according to people familiar with the matter.
“It’s a Covid test,” he said Wednesday. “I don’t think we need to overthink this.”
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