Fri. Nov 18th, 2022

Taoiseach Micheál Martin will join other European Union leaders on a video conference this afternoon as part of an ongoing move to coordinate Europe’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the vaccine roll-out.
They are expected to focus on delays to the roll-out and the need to increase production of key vaccines within Europe.
The leaders will also discuss the potential for vaccine certificates that might be recognised at EU level.
Vaccine administration is still hampered by delays at national level, new variants are taking root in member states, and in some countries there is growing resistance to the AstraZeneca vaccine, certainly among the over 65s.
EU leaders will focus their intention on boosting the supply of vaccines, in part by deepening cooperation among pharmaceutical companies.
They will also discuss the issue of border closures, how to keep so-called green lanes open and to avoid the disruption to the flow of goods.
There is a view that while the first quarter has gone badly, there will be a much bigger flow of vaccines in the second quarter.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the German regional daily newspaper Augsburger Allgemeine that, despite the friction with AstraZeneca, “vaccine manufacturers are our partners in this pandemic”.
Her goal is to have 70% of adults in the European Union vaccinated by mid-September.
Mediterranean countries are pushing hard for a recognisable certificate for those who have been vaccinated as a way to revive shattered tourism sectors.
Northern countries, including Ireland, are sceptical.
Officials say certificates should remain health documents, and not passports, given that there remains the question of whether or not those vaccinated can still be infectious.
Greece going it alone on travel
Just 4% of the EU’s 450 million population has received at least one jab, according to an AFP tally of official figures – and only 2% have been fully vaccinated with two jabs.
But thoughts are already turning to vaccine certificates.
Several EU officials and diplomats have warned that, while they back a verifiable vaccination record, it is too early to look at using “vaccine passports” to permit easier travel.
“We still do not have advice from the health authorities (about) what the vaccine does and does not do: Can you still contaminate others if you have been vaccinated? I don’t know,” one senior EU diplomat told journalists.
“What happens to those who have not been vaccinated? What procedure do they have to go through to be able to enter a country? I think this is still under discussion,” he said.
France and Germany, notably, are opposed, fearing a travel split between a minority of vaccinated haves and a majority of unvaccinated have-nots.
However, preliminary EU talks have already started with the International Air Travel Association, which is about to launch its travel pass, an app that stores vaccine data.
Meanwhile, Greece has indicated that it is ready to move faster than its EU colleagues, and has already struck a bilateral travel agreement with Israel, which leads the world in vaccinations.
It is reportedly in similar talks with the UK, where bookings of low-cost flights to Greece, Spain and Turkey soared on Tuesday after London said curbs on foreign leisure travel could be lifted as early as mid-May.
The senior EU diplomat acknowledged that all countries were “eager” to find a safe way to reopen travel in time for the June-to-September tourist season, but said “we have to move this forward together”.
An EU official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, was blunter, saying the EU wants to avoid “a new death season”.
Brussels is also concerned the emergence of worrying variants could require retooled booster shots, which would in turn mean vaccine certificates would have to be constantly updated.
A more pressing problem than the certificates, though, are the severe border restrictions put in place by several EU countries to curb the virus variants, which the commission sees as disproportionate.
It has written warning letters to Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary and Sweden about their measures, giving them until late next week to respond.
Another EU diplomat said: “In this instance we needed to underscore the rules we have collectively signed on to.”
The EU official said that, without the commission’s intervention, such restrictions “could be worse than what we see today”.
He added that he expected “quite a lively discussion between the member states” on that issue.
Additional reporting AFP