In the last few weeks, Europe has seen a surge in COVID cases and the spread of the latest and highly-transmittable variant, Omicron. Whilst the European Commission announced in December 20211 that the EU Digital COVID Certificate (DCC) would be valid for nine months without a booster shot, several EU countries – including France, Italy, Denmark and Malta – decided to shorten the validity of vaccination passes for national use to seven or three months. A number of countries have also introduced additional testing requirements that apply to vaccinated/recovered EU travellers, going against the current Council Recommendations.2
Transport and tourism associations are very concerned at this emerging new patchwork of rules across Europe. The industry supports the European Commission according to which a harmonised validity period for the DCC “is a necessity for safe free movement and EU level co-ordination”. Although the Commission recommends EU Member States apply the same DCC validity period for intra-EU travel and national level, the emerging discrepancies are worrying. Equally, Member States should align with the Council Recommendations as they are agreed and updated from time to time, so that travel between Member States is possible under equal conditions across the EU at all times.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the biggest global recession since the Second World War. Data3 shows EU economic underperformance from 2019–present relative to the United States and China, with forecasts confirming recovery is unlikely before 2023. Southern European countries have been particularly affected and without doubt, the travel and tourism sectors have been hit harder than others.
Although the pandemic has been raging for the last two years, several EU Member States continue to act unilaterally, adopting a different DCC validity period, as well as diverging rules regarding children and young adults below 18 years old. This will have a direct impact on families wanting to travel for the winter holidays and later on this spring.
This inconsistency in travel restrictions across the EU directly impinges on individual passengers and businesses to schedule future trips and holiday bookings. The transport and tourism industry still sees booking rates at least 30 per cent below 2021 levels.
Further to this, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s (ECDC) most recent guidance to reduce ongoing transmission has focussed on strengthening non-pharmaceutical interventions; including avoiding large public or private gatherings, extended use of face masks, reduced contacts between groups of individuals in social or work settings, teleworking, and reduced inter-household mixing – it has not included travel restrictions. The World Health Organisation (WHO) also underlines the failure of travel restrictions to limit international spread of Omicron and points out the “ineffectiveness of such measures over time”.4
The emergence of non-co-ordinated travel restrictions across the EU jeopardises the DCC’s objective – to support safe and free movement across the EU. We urge governments to stop deviating from this consistent approach and ensure a clear and harmonised process at a European level.
The travel and tourism sectors have already suffered greatly at the hands of the pandemic, with economic consequences set to continue for years to come. Now more than ever, co-ordination between national governments to provide clear, safe and consistent rules is needed, to support traveller confidence, ‘save’ the summer season and ultimately ensure economic recovery.
2 Provision 17aa of Council Recommendation (EU) 2020/1475 on free movement.
3 European Economic Forecast. Autumn 2021 (11 November 2021).
4 Statement on the tenth meeting of the International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee regarding the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.