Several European countries have been loosening their restrictions and even scrapping vaccine passports as it becomes clear that these measures are not doing much to stop the spread of the virus. However, the unelected members of the European Commission governing the EU are proposing keeping the COVID-19 vaccine passport system in place in the European Union for another year.
The European Commission recently posted a notice on its website stating that it would be proposing extending the EU digital COVID-19 certificate until June 30, 2023.
The statement reads: “The COVID-19 virus continues to be prevalent in Europe and at this stage it is not possible to determine the impact of a possible increase in infections in the second half of 2022 or of the emergence of new variants.
“Extending the Regulation will ensure that travelers can continue using their EU Digital COVID Certificate when travelling in the EU where Member States maintain certain public health measures.”
However, the statement does acknowledge that individual countries can decide whether or not to continue using the EU COVID-19 vaccine passport system, stating: “The domestic use of EU Digital COVID Certificates remains a matter for Member States to decide. The EU legislation on the EU Digital COVID Certificate neither prescribes nor prohibits the domestic use of EU Digital COVID Certificate (such as for access to events or restaurants).”
The statement went on to encourage its EU member states to align any validity periods for domestic COVID-19 passports with the validity set by the EU for travel purposes.
EU pushes as member countries relax restrictions
The move comes as a recent study by experts in Spain found that vaccine passports do not have a significant impact when it comes to reducing infection rates of the virus, echoing findings by the UK government that vaccine passports may actually be increasing COVID-19 rates in the country. However, the Spanish study did claim the passport requirements may nevertheless be beneficial in the sense that they warn people of ongoing danger and encourage those who wish to participate in society to get the vaccine.
Several European countries have recently scrapped vaccine passes and other restrictions. Sweden, for example, will be eliminating all of its COVID-19 restrictions on February 9, allowing people to get back to the way life was before the pandemic.
Their announcement came just a day after a similar one by Switzerland, who vowed to put an end to their mandatory work-from-home and quarantine restrictions. In addition, tourists who enter the country will not need to present COVID-19 certificates. Several other restrictions are also going to be phased out in Switzerland this month.
The two countries joined Denmark, the first EU country to end all of its COVID-19 restrictions and change its classification to an endemic disease. As of February 1, people are no longer required to wear face masks or show COVID-19 passports to enter establishments in the country, although there are restrictions on those who enter from other countries.
The Czech Republic, meanwhile, has announced it will stop requiring COVID-19 passports to enter restaurants and other entertainment venues starting on February 9, which means unvaccinated people can rejoin society. Even France, which is known for having very restrictive vaccine pass requirements, has stopped requiring people to wear masks outdoors or work from home, although other measures remain in place.
The pandemic is evolving in Europe, and attitudes toward the virus have been changing in light of Omicron and ongoing research into the efficacy of strict measures. World Health Organization Director Hans Kluge recently declared Europe is now entering a “long period of tranquility.” Record cases may have been noted in some countries, but they are not resulting in hospital admissions at the rates seen in the past, and deaths are plateauing.
**By Cassie B.