Press play to listen to this article
Europe is hoping to boost summertime travel with the help of EU-wide certificates and a common approach among governments on testing and other restrictions.
The so-called EU Digital COVID Certificate, which certifies travelers’ tests, vaccinations or immunity from a previous infection, will allow people “to enjoy this most tangible and cherished of EU rights — the right to free movement,” the presidents of the EU institutions said in a joint statement as they signed the regulation into law Monday. It goes into effect on July 1.
But, as usual, it’s not quite that simple.
The Council coordinated countries’ treatment of the certificates in a separate, nonbinding recommendation — meaning governments have leeway to deviate from it.
Here’s what you need to know before your summer getaway.
What is the EU Digital COVID Certificate?
There are three kinds of certificates: One proves you’ve been vaccinated, another documents recent tests, and a third certifies your immunity following a coronavirus infection.
The documents, which have a QR code, can be used in a digital format or as a printout, and will be issued free of charge.
Does that mean no more quarantines or extra tests?
Not necessarily. The COVID pass regulation says countries should refrain from imposing further restrictions, such as quarantines or testing, on travelers with a certificate — “unless they are necessary and proportionate to safeguard public health in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In a separate recommendation, EU countries agreed to limit potential restrictions to travelers who cannot prove immunity — whether by vaccine or past infection — and are coming from higher-risk areas. But that text is not binding, meaning it remains up to countries to implement its contents.
What if I’m fully vaccinated?
Countries agreed that travelers with a certificate proving they’re fully vaccinated shouldn’t face restrictions such as testing or quarantines. You’re considered fully vaccinated if it’s been at least 14 days since your final shot.
That should also cover people who’ve received a single dose of a two-dose vaccine following a coronavirus infection, according to the text.
EU countries have to accept all vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency. Currently, those are Oxford/AstraZeneca, BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. But countries can also decide to accept other vaccines, such as the Russian Sputnik vaccine, which is being used by Hungary.
What if I’m still waiting for my second jab?
The certificate also certifies the first of a two-dose vaccine. But it’s up to individual countries to decide whether that’s enough to exempt a traveler from testing or quarantine requirements.
What if I’ve just recovered from COVID-19?
EU countries agreed that travelers who can prove they tested positive for the coronavirus in the 180 days preceding a trip shouldn’t face restrictions such as testing and quarantines.
For the time being, only a previous positive PCR test counts as proof you were sick and have recovered, although antibody tests might be accepted later on, if scientific evidence suggests they’re trustworthy, a Commission official said last month.
I’m unvaccinated and haven’t had COVID. Does that mean I have to get tested?
Whether you’ll need to take a test before you travel depends on the health risk at your point of departure, which the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) maps every week.
The color-coded map ranks the health risk in the EU’s regions from green (safe), through orange (medium-risk) to red (high-risk) and dark-red (very high risk); gray indicates a lack of information.
Under the Council recommendation, travelers from a green region shouldn’t face travel restrictions. If you’re traveling from an orange, red or gray region, countries can still require confirmation of a pre-departure test via the certificate.
EU countries agreed to a common approach on the validity of tests: A PCR test should be taken maximum 72 hours before arrival at a traveler’s destination; a rapid antigen test is valid for 48 hours. Both have to be administered by health workers or skilled personnel.
Something to keep in mind: Countries are not obligated to recognize rapid antigen tests, meaning it’s best to check specific policies.
Can I travel without a certificate?
Yes, the certificate is not a precondition for travel — but you’re likely to face more restrictions without one.
For example, if you’re not vaccinated or recently recovered and you’re traveling from an “orange” or a “red” area, countries can demand that you carry a negative test certificate. If you don’t have one, your destination country may require you to get tested on arrival if you’re coming from an “orange” area or require you to quarantine until you get a negative test result if you’re coming from a “red” zone.
What if I’m vaccinated, but my kids aren’t?
Countries agreed that children younger than 12 shouldn’t be tested for travel; minors traveling with a parent or other travel companion shouldn’t be required to quarantine when their adult companion isn’t.
Great, so everything’s settled?
Under the travel recommendation, countries can enact an “emergency brake” when the health situation in a region “deteriorates rapidly” due to the emergence of worrying coronavirus mutations. That mechanism could see testing and quarantine requirements revived — even if you’re fully vaccinated or have recovered from an infection.
Also keep an eye out for the ECDC’s assessment of the risk in your home country, as it guides whether your destination country may require additional measures such as tests.
Meanwhile, the common approach agreed by countries on how to treat travelers with a certificate is not binding, so it’s still a good idea to keep a close eye on countries’ implementation.
Want more analysis from POLITICO? POLITICO Pro is our premium intelligence service for professionals. From financial services to trade, technology, cybersecurity and more, Pro delivers real time intelligence, deep insight and breaking scoops you need to keep one step ahead. Email [email protected] to request a complimentary trial.
287 total views, 2 views today