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LONDON – Are you looking for holidays in Greece or Spain? It could be waiting for some time.
European leaders are expected to say Thursday that all non-essential travel should remain restricted as the Covid health situation remains “dire” across the continent, according to a document seen by CNBC.
The 27 heads of state of the European Union will meet virtually Thursday afternoon to discuss the current state of the pandemic in the region. The EU remains one of the parts of the world most affected by the coronavirus, with several nations still locked in or with strict social restrictions. At the same time, vaccination efforts have gotten off to a rocky start with some questioning whether the EU will reach its goal of vaccinating 70% of its adult population by the summer.
“The epidemiological situation remains serious and the new variants pose additional challenges. Therefore, we must maintain strict restrictions as we redouble efforts to accelerate the supply of vaccines,” European leaders are expected to say, according to the draft document.
There have been more than 21 million cases and more than 515,000 deaths from Covid-19 in Europe so far, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. Since the end of 2020, health authorities have identified a number of new variants of the virus, considered more contagious and infectious.
The ongoing health emergency is particularly serious in the Czech Republic and parts of Latvia, Sweden, Spain and Portugal.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, European Council President Charles Michel, who chairs the summits, said: “New variants have become the dominant strains in many member states. This involves improving our sequencing capacity and preparing the ground for vaccine updates “.
Given the health crisis, European leaders are still unwilling to ease travel restrictions.
“At the moment, non-essential travel should be restricted,” they are expected to say, according to the document.
This will be bad news for countries that rely heavily on tourism. Greece, for example, has lobbied the EU to agree to some kind of vaccine passport so that it can more easily reopen its tourism industry in time for the summer season.
However, leaders seem far from agreeing with this idea for now. Some heads of state believe it is too early to consider a vaccination passport as vaccine deployment is still at such an early stage.
Rickard Gustafson, CEO of Scandinavian Airlines, told CNBC’s Squawk Box Europe on Thursday that vaccine passports or similar IDs “could help reopen the world, however … I am concerned that this may not be a national standard, it must be an international standard. “
Also, for this idea to work, Gustafson said it must apply to “all other modes of transportation.”
“This is not just an aviation problem. It should be deployed to the same extent in all other modes of transportation, because if you cross a border, it doesn’t really matter if you cross it by air, train, car, by bus,” he said.
Implementing something like vaccine passports in Europe would be particularly challenging given its policy of free movement.
European citizens often use trains, buses and other means of transport to travel between EU countries and their passports are not verified during these trips. As such, having to verify vaccination certificates at the border would cause significant logistical problems and could deter some potential tourists from traveling abroad.