New certificate will decide who can travel in Europe this summer

As travel restrictions lighten across Europe, lawmakers have endorsed a vaccination certificate to make international trips easier for individuals who have been vaccinated in efforts to ensure the tourism industry will bounce back this summer.  

Emilio Morentatti/AP
A couple goes for a swim in Barcelona, Spain on June 8, 2021. Vaccine certificates will be issued free of charge and will show that a person has either been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, has recently tested negative, or has recovered from the disease.

European Union lawmakers on Wednesday endorsed a new travel certificate that will allow people to move between European countries without having to quarantine or undergo extra coronavirus tests, paving the way for the pass to start in time for summer.

The widely awaited certificate is aimed at saving Europe’s travel industry and prime tourist sites from another disastrous vacation season. Key travel destinations like Greece have led the drive to have the certificate, which will have both paper and digital forms, rapidly introduced.

Several EU countries have already begun using the system, including Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, and Poland.

Across Europe, countries are removing restrictions as summer approaches. In France, major sport and cultural events are allowed with a maximum number of 5,000 people. They'll need to show a vaccination certificate or a negative test within the last 48 hours. Terraces of restaurants and cafes, theaters, cinemas, and museums reopened on May 19 after a six-month coronavirus shutdown. In Brussels, people will be free to walk unencumbered in most places. Masks will be required in busy shopping areas or public transport where social distancing is more difficult.

Right now, traveling in the EU’s 27 nations is a trial for tourists and airlines alike. Countries have various COVID-19 traffic-light systems, where those in green are considered safe and those in red to be avoided. But each nation is applying different rules and standards, making travel confusing for all.

The new regulations governing the vaccine certificates were adopted in two votes at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. Rules for EU citizens were passed 546 to 93, with 51 abstentions. Those for people from outside the bloc passed 553 to 91, with 46 abstentions.

The vote must still be rubber-stamped by EU nations, but that’s likely a formality.

It means that beginning July 1 for 12 months, all EU countries must recognize the vaccine certificate. They will be issued free and certify that a person has either been fully vaccinated against the virus, has recently tested negative, or has recovered from the disease.

The rules will not be heavily enforced for 6 weeks to allow countries to prepare.

The passes will be issued by individual nations, not from a centralized European system. They will contain a QR code with advanced security features. Personal data will not be shared with other countries.

Spanish Socialist lawmaker Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, who chaperoned the votes through parliament, said “EU states are encouraged to refrain from imposing further restrictions, unless strictly necessary and proportionate.”

People coming from outside the EU, the overwhelming majority of whom should be vaccinated to enter, will be able to get a certificate if they can convince authorities in the EU country they enter that they qualify for one.

Meanwhile, the European Central Bank is expected to leave its stimulus efforts running at full steam – even as the economy shows signs of recovery thanks to the easing of pandemic restrictions.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. AP writer David McHugh contributed to this report.

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