Brussels gives tentative backing to EU coronavirus ‘passports’ to boost travel

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Margaritis Schinas, a commisison vice-president, said that extraordinary times called for extraordinary measures. – AFP

Vaccine ‘passports’ would risk spreading coronavirus, the Government warned on Tuesday, despite the European Commission tentatively backing the idea.

EU leaders will have their first discussions on the vaccination certificates at a video summit on Thursday.

The Department of Health confirmed that vaccine passports were not being considered in Britain because it is not yet known whether the vaccines stop you being a carrier.

That could mean British tourists missing out on EU holidays because they will not have the vaccination certificates, which the commission said could be used in the EU “and beyond”. It is unlikely that Britain would accept the certificates from EU citizens hoping to travel to the UK.

Brussels said that using the vaccination certificates to allow greater travel and tourism in the EU was “premature” at this stage but left the door open for the plans to be picked up in the future.

“We feel that now this is the time for these vaccine certificates to be recognised across the European Union, and even beyond the European Union.” said Margaritis Schinas, a commission vice-president.

Mr Schinas said it was “perfectly imaginable that this can open avenues for other use, including facilitating travel”.

But EU heads of state and government would have to agree to the idea and enough Europeans would have to be vaccinated first, he said.

The commission said member states should set ambitious targets to vaccinate at least 80 percent of health and social care professionals and people over 80 years old by March 2021 and a minimum of 70 percent of the total adult population by summer.

The bloc started jabs three weeks ago and has so far approved two vaccines – from BioNTech/Pfizer and from Moderna – with others soon expected to follow.

But its pace of vaccination trails behind countries such as the US, Britain, Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

In a swipe at Britain, Mr Schinas said the EU had opted for “safety first” instead of granting emergency approval for vaccines as the UK had.

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“It is not a race between countries but a race against time in Europe,” he said.

The commission said the EU would agree the minimum data necessary for the vaccination certificate and ensure it would respect data privacy laws by the end of January.

The common approach could be “scaled up globally” by becoming a model for the certification systems of the World Health Organisation.

Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, whose country is dependent on tourism, has called for the certificates to allow for vaccinated people to travel freely around Europe.

Other countries, including Germany, are more cautious, especially after the arrival of the British variant on the Continent, and are against any plan which discriminates between those who have the jab and don’t.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and leaders of Germany’s 16 states were expected to extend and tighten a partial lockdown beyond January last night, as fears grow over virus variant strains believed to be more contagious.

The former Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has told Times Radio he’s feeling “optimistic” about being able to travel in 2021, and has already booked two summer holidays, including a trip to Italy in June.

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