The European Union is recommending that its member states start gradually lifting their travel restrictions for Canadians, opening the door to non-essential travel to the region.
Canada was one of 10 countries the European Council announced Thursday should be allowed to travel to the region for non-essential purposes, along with Azerbaijan, Armenia, Jordan, Montenegro and Quatar. The announcement brings the total number of countries on that list to 23.
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However, it remains up to the member states of the EU to decide whether they’d like to begin that process of reopening their borders to tourists.
“The Council recommendation is not a legally binding instrument,” read the release. “The authorities of the member states remain responsible for implementing the content of the recommendation.”
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The EU Council first adopted a recommendation on the gradual lifting of non-essential travel restrictions on June 30, 2020 — almost exactly one year ago. That list is reviewed every two weeks to determine whether recommendations should change.
Just over a month ago, on May 20, the Council began shifting its recommendations in light of the ongoing vaccination efforts around the world. The organization introduced some waivers for fully vaccinated people and began to ease the criteria set out for lifting restrictions.
“At the same time, the amendments take into account the possible risks posed by new variants by setting out an emergency brake mechanism to quickly react to the emergence of a variant of interest or concern in a third country,” the Council said.
That emergency brake system would allow the EU Council to reverse certain recommendations based on the COVID-19 situation in a particular country.
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The World Health Organization issued a warning on that very issue on Thursday, noting that a 10-week drop in COVID-19 cases in the region had just ended in part due to the spread of the Delta variant.
The WHO’s Dr. Hans Kluge blamed a 10 per cent increase in infection numbers over the last week on “increased mixing, travel, gatherings, and easing of social restrictions.”
The highly transmissible Delta variant is on track to be the dominant one in Europe by August, he added, noting that some 63 per cent of people in the region haven’t had a first vaccine jab.
Canadian travel eligibility
The development comes on the heels of the news that the EU is starting to roll out its internal vaccine passport program. The Digital COVID Certificate, which is aimed at allowing member states to travel more freely between each others’ borders, could one day allow double-dosed Canadians to also travel through Europe with greater ease.
But there’s a catch: not all Canadian-approved COVID-19 vaccines are currently recognized by the program.
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Canada has approved all the same vaccines as the EU: Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson), the latter of which hasn’t been distributed to date.
However, while Canada has doled out both the European-made version of the AstraZeneca jab and its Indian-made counterpart – known as Covishield – Brussels has only approved the European-made version.
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That means Canadians who received at least one dose of the Covishield vaccine might find themselves running into a roadblock as they try to book a trip to the EU, should Europe’s internal passport program be extended to international travellers.
“My understanding is that the two AstraZeneca manufactured vaccines, European Union and India, are biologically identical,” said Kerry Bowman, a professor of bioethics and global health at the University of Toronto.
“So what we’ve got is a bureaucratic situation here that could well indeed stand in the way of people’s freedom of travel.”
In Canada, 1.6 million people have received a jab of the European-made version of AstraZeneca, according to the government’s figures. But another 272,000 people have been given at least one dose of the Covishield vaccine – leaving the future of their potential EU travel plans in limbo.
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As early cracks begin to emerge in proof-of-vaccination strategies, the Canadian government says there’s a concerted global effort underway to ensure proof-of-vaccination rules make sense in an international context.
So far, Canada has stopped short of issuing an official plan for vaccine passports — but on June 18, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government is “working with the provinces to establish a national certification of vaccination status that will be easily accepted around the world for people who need to travel internationally.”
He said these certifications are likely going to be available “for the fall.”
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These discussions aren’t just underway with provinces. They’re taking place on the international stage, too, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).
“Proof of vaccination credentials are one potential tool that could be used to support the reopening of societies and economies,” said Tammy Jarbeau, a spokesperson for PHAC.
“Canada is participating in the international dialogue on this issue, specifically at the World Health Organization and through the G7.”
— With files from The Canadian Press and the Associated Press
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