Amid vaccine hurdles, EU battles to save summer vacations with COVID travel pass

The European Commission on Thursday proposed the creation of a COVID-19 certificate to allow European Union residents to travel more freely within the bloc, as it looks to boost the continent’s battered tourism industry in time for summer.

That is even as the region struggles with its inoculation campaign, which has been comparatively slow compared with countries such as the U.S. and the U.K., as it has been plagued by repeated delivery delays amid manufacturing issues at some European plants.

The slowdown has been exacerbated by temporary suspensions in some European countries of use of the vaccine from drug company AstraZeneca
AZN,
-2.10%,
following reports of blood clots in some people who received shots.

Read: Germany and France become latest countries to halt use of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine over blood clot concerns

The digital green certificate would be granted to citizens who can prove they have been vaccinated, recently recovered from coronavirus disease, or have a negative coronavirus test, preventing the need for quarantines or travel bans.

“This certificate would facilitate safe free movement of citizens inside the EU during the COVID-19 pandemic in a nondiscriminatory way,” said the Commission. “In addition to possible uses in healthcare, the aim of the certificate is to facilitate the safe free movement of citizens of one Member State to and in other EU Member States,” it added.

Countries including Greece, Spain and Portugal — which are heavily reliant on tourism — have been lobbying European governments to introduce a common system for travel to help governments coordinate travel measures as vaccination programs are rolled out across Europe.

However, some countries have also cautioned that digital health passes should not disadvantage people who have not yet been vaccinated. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis stated the country won’t establish vaccination as a mandatory requirement for travel, but “those who have been vaccinated should be free to move.”

The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, has committed to vaccinating 70% of adults by the end of September. But its efforts have been hampered by repeated delivery delays, and more recently the suspension of the use of the AstraZeneca
AZN,
-2.10%
vaccine in several countries, including Germany, France and Spain, following reports of clotting issues in some recipients.

The European Medicines Agency, or EMA, said this week that there is “no indication” that AstraZeneca’s vaccine is the cause of reported blood clots, and reiterated that it remains “firmly convinced” that the benefits of the shot, which has been developed in collaboration with the University of Oxford, outweigh the risks.

The EMA, which is reviewing safety data, will comment again on Thursday after it has evaluated the latest information. Both France and Italy have signaled that they are prepared to restart the administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine if the regulator says the COVID-19 shot is safe.

Read: Airlines and travel stocks surge as U.K. sets out lockdown exit plans

The increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines, including the one developed by Germany’s BioNTech
BNTX,
-2.60%
with its U.S. partner, drug company Pfizer
PFE,
-1.51%,
and the one made by U.S. biotech Moderna
MRNA,
-5.85%,
have prompted some governments to rethink travel restrictions, even amid a third wave of infections in Europe.

Several airlines, including IAG
IAG,
+0.56%
owned British Airways, American Airlines
AAL,
+1.14%
and United Airlines
UAL,
+1.97%,
are trialing their own digital passes to accelerate a safer opening of international borders and kick-start global travel, which has been hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read: American Airlines and British Airways trial free COVID testing on trans-Atlantic flights in boost to travel

Global airline industry body IATA plans to launch its Travel Pass app at the end of March, which will manage and verify the secure flow of necessary testing or vaccine information among governments, airlines, laboratories and travelers.

Meanwhile, P&O Cruises, which is owned by Carnival
CCL,
+0.25%,
announced on Wednesday that British holidaymakers planning a “staycation cruise” will have to prove they have had two doses of a coronavirus vaccine. “Failure to provide proof, “will result in denial of boarding”, P&O said in a statement on Wednesday, adding that the requirement is a “strong expressed preference on the part of our guests.”

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