PANDEMIC: At the end of a European summit, leaders warned of the next “difficult” weeks, especially on the vaccination front
It is too early to let our guard down. European leaders at the summit called on Thursday to “maintain firm restrictions” while speeding up vaccination campaigns to stem the mutations of the coronavirus, but have not settled their differences on the future “vaccine passport”.
“The epidemiological situation remains serious, and the new variants pose additional challenges. We must therefore maintain firm restrictions while stepping up our efforts “to speed up vaccination, the Twenty-Seven said in their conclusions after a videoconference summit.
Vaccination still in slow motion
While the rise of the British and South African variants raises the specter of new outbreaks of contamination across the continent, vaccination campaigns remain sluggish, still penalized by significant delivery delays.
“The next few weeks will remain difficult in the field of vaccination”, acknowledged the President of the European Council Charles Michel during a press conference. “But I would like to display a message of optimism (…) We have the means to ensure that the EU plays a key role in (…) getting out of this crisis in the coming months”, he added.
The European Commission has pledged a sharp increase in available doses in the second quarter – with sharply increased shipments from Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna, vaccine approval from Johnson & Johnson, and close oversight to address failures in production lines .
Charles Michel also called for “improving the sequencing capacities” of the virus to quickly identify its mutations – a complex procedure unevenly carried out across the Union but for which Brussels has released funds. Worried about the push for variants, around ten EU states have restricted the crossing of their borders. The Commission has summoned six of them, including Belgium and Germany, to explain the restrictions it considers disproportionate, fearing the disruption of production chains.
France, for its part, announced Thursday that it would require recent PCR tests for non-professional journeys of cross-border workers from Germany to the Moselle. The 27 had initially promised to adopt only “proportionate” and “non-discriminatory” measures. But the mutations have changed the situation, prompting some governments to close their borders.
Regarding the issue of a European vaccination certificate to facilitate travel, the leaders contented themselves in their conclusions with “calling for a common approach”.
“There are still scientific questions: it is not yet certain that you will stop transmitting the virus after having been vaccinated,” said Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The question of the rights attached to this “travel passport” had been deemed “conflicting” and “irrelevant” by certain member states, at a time when only 4.2% of Europeans had received at least one dose of vaccine.
Paris and Berlin consider the question premature, rejecting any inequality of treatment between a privileged minority and the others. But other states – especially those most dependent on tourism – want accelerated adoption to save their summer season, like Greece which, like Cyprus, has already concluded a tourism agreement with Israel.
Supported by Bulgaria, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz recommended “a green passport” allowing travel or access to restaurants, for people vaccinated but also for those considered “immune” after having contracted the virus.
The Twenty-Seven finally entrusted the Commission with the task of drawing up the technical conditions for a vaccination certificate (element to be taken into account, IT support, interoperability, etc.) The European executive “will need three months to achieve this” German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed to the press, while assuring that after its implementation, “this does not mean that only holders of a vaccination passport will be able to travel”.