An EU-wide travel system was launched on Thursday, allowing European citizens to resume travel across the bloc without quarantine in a move designed to help boost tourism over the summer.
The EU’s “digital green certificate” will allow Europeans who have proof of vaccination, a negative Covid-19 test, or proof of recovery from the virus, to travel to other member states. The app-based certificate gives travellers a QR code to allow them to avoid quarantine in other member states.
The certificate was agreed by EU governments and MEPs in May and was introduced after pressure from southern economies which are reliant on tourism and in desperate need of summer visitors.
The system, which is now rolled out in all 27 member states, was already being trialled by many countries before the launch. More than 200m certificates have now been downloaded, according to the European Commission.
Brussels has been under pressure to come up with a system of co-ordinated travel to prevent member states from imposing their own rules. The airline and travel industry has also demanded the rollout of technology to facilitate safe travel for vaccinated and non-vaccinated citizens.
“The European Digital Certificate is a symbol of an open and safe Europe that is opening cautiously putting the protection of the health of our citizens first,” said commission president Ursula von der Leyen.
Citizens from outside the EU can enter the bloc if they have been fully vaccinated with a jab recognised by the European Medicines Agency. Member states can also choose to allow travellers who have received other jabs that have been given emergency approval by the World Health Organization.
“At the moment a lot of paperwork is needed in order to travel back and forth to Greece,” said Isidora Chandeli, manager of Verina boutique hotels on the island of Sifnos. “The European passport will make the process a lot easier.”
However the system will not completely ease intra-EU travel this summer. Nor, economists said, is it likely to give tourism a substantial boost as EU residents can already travel within the bloc’s “green list” of countries with low Covid-19 infections.
“Most adults are not fully vaccinated and the Delta variant is making people and governments more cautious about the health implications of foreign holidays,” said Jessica Hinds, economist at Capital Economics. “We expect the tourism sector to remain very subdued this summer.”
Moreover, the new scheme may also not stop governments from imposing extra restrictions on travellers from EU countries they consider higher risk.
For example, Germany responded to Portugal’s high Delta variant infection rate by banning most travellers from the country except German residents, who must quarantine for two weeks on return even if tested or fully vaccinated.
The recognition of non-EU vaccination apps also remains in flux, although the EU has said it will in time recognise them under certain conditions.
Some individual EU countries already recognise the UK’s NHS app as proof of vaccination, such as Portugal and Greece. By contrast, Spain does not currently recognise the NHS app although it does accept British vaccination documents.
That means British travellers can enter Spain without a test if they have been fully vaccinated, but only if they bring paper documents proving that. Romania operates a similar system for British travellers.
Meanwhile, Bern has said the Swiss certificate app is planned to be fully interoperable with the EU one. Norway and Iceland will also be plugged into the EU system.
Additional reporting by Peter Wise in Lisbon, Sam Jones in Zurich, Valentina Pop in Brussels, Daniel Dombey in Madrid and Guy Chazan in Berlin