An EU-wide Covid certificate to facilitate travel went into effect on Thursday, just in time for the busy summer vacation period in Europe – but the highly infectious Delta variant is already threatening to curtail its use.
The EU document – essentially a QR code available 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) , or if they have recovered from an infection or recently tested negative.
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).
All EU member states were connected to the digital certificate system on Thursday except Ireland, which was hit by a cyberattack on its health service in May and plans to make it operational on July 19. .
But a push from the Delta variant, first detected in India and now rapidly gaining ground elsewhere, could trigger an “emergency brake” provision suspending acceptance of the certificate.
Germany has already banned inbound travelers from Portugal, where the Delta variant has become dominant. Only its own citizens or residents are allowed to enter Portugal, and they must self-quarantine for two weeks upon arrival.
The Berlin decision angered Brussels, with EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders saying on Wednesday that “we should avoid travel bans” within the EU and stressing that Germany should have first consult its partners.
The British Delta Problem
The surprising increase in Delta cases in former EU member Britain, with a sliding two-week infection rate more than seven times that of the bloc, is causing deep concern on the continent.
This week, Portugal, Spain and Malta all sharply increased restrictions on travelers from the UK, although all three have said they will accept fully vaccinated Britons.
The World Health Organization added to the unease by warning on Thursday that the number of Covid cases in Europe was on the rise again, up 10% after two months of decline, due to an easing of social restrictions and increased travel.
The darkening of the context could limit the effects of the EU certificate.
“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 cautious. “.
Airlines are worried
Airlines grouped in a pressure group, A4E, have expressed fears that an ‘inconsistent approach’ between EU countries when reviewing EU Covid certificate could create long lines waiting times at airports with the potential to “create new health risks”.
They demanded that certificates be verified online before travelers even arrive at the airport.
There were scenes of trouble at Brussels airport early Thursday as the first day of the summer school vacation in Belgium, an airport strike in neighboring France, and additional Covid checks collided .
“Everything is blocked,” said an employee at a Brussels Airlines check-in counter, as a massive line of passengers was directed to a waiting tent where social distancing was not respected.
“We’re going to miss our flight,” complained a couple with two children.
An employee replied: “This is Covid, this is the procedure. If you miss your flight, we will get you another one.”
Overall, EU governments are gauging the public’s desire for a much needed summer break from 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 bloc has now received at least one dose of the vaccine, compared to 66% in Britain.
So far, one in three people in the EU is considered fully vaccinated.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and is posted from a syndicated feed.)