EU to Propose Daily Review of Travel Rules to Counter Omicron

(Bloomberg) —
A worker on a lift adjusts the EU flags in front of EU headquarters in Brussels. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)

The European Union recommended Wednesday that member states review essential travel restrictions on a daily basis and coordinate their actions in response to the omicron variant.

The daily assessment is needed to determine whether the temporary restrictions need to be applied to additional countries, as well as what kind of testing or quarantine of essential travelers is required, according to an EU official. The aim is to adapt the measures, or lift them as more evidence becomes available, the official added.

A group representing the airline industry said it hoped the European Commission’s approach would counter the divergent response it’s seen so far from European governments when it comes to travel rules and the omicron variant.

“We welcome the commission’s continued efforts to coordinate member states’ strategy to limit the spread of the omicron variant,” Agnes Leroux, the policy director for Airlines for Europe (A4E) said in a statement. “With further scientific updates expected in the coming days on the severity of infection linked to omicron, reviewing measures on a daily basis is a good approach in order to amend travel restrictions as needed.”

EU nations have implemented restrictions on travel to southern Africa and some have added in additional testing requirements.

The bloc’s executive arm also called on national governments to rapidly deploy booster shots and quickly implement proposals to limit the validity of the EU’s digital vaccine certificate to nine months without a booster.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday that she believed EU nations should also discuss whether mandatory vaccinations are needed to help fight the ongoing spike in Covid-19 cases, as well as the new omicron variant.

“I think it is understandable and appropriate to lead this discussion now — how we can encourage and potentially think about mandatory vaccination within the European Union,” she said during a news conference. “This needs discussion. This needs a common approach. But it is a discussion that I think has to be led.”

The EU decided against holding an emergency virtual leaders’ summit, according to an EU official. Instead, health ministers will meet Tuesday to discuss the COVID situation and EU leaders will address it at their next scheduled summit on Dec. 16, the official added.

European governments should put in place targeted and proportionate precautions and restrictions to limit the spread of the virus, the EU said.

The bloc also pledged to accelerate its efforts to share vaccines worldwide in order to achieve the global vaccination target of 70% in 2022, which was agreed at the Group of 20 summit in October.

As of Tuesday, 11 EU members have recorded at least 59 cases of the omicron variant, including in the Netherlands, Sweden and Spain. EU agencies are currently collecting and analyzing data on the variant. The European Medicines Agency said on Tuesday that the approval of vaccines to address the new variant, if needed, could take three to four months.


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