By Philip Blenkinsop
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union countries kicked off a debate on Monday on whether people who have received a COVID-19 vaccine should have greater freedom to travel in the summer than those not immunized.
Europe ministers from the 27 EU nations held a video conference to discuss greater coordination for the roll-out of vaccines, a topic to be picked up by EU leaders who will meet online on Thursday.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis floated the idea last week in a letter to the European Commission of an EU-wide vaccination certificate to help restore cross-border travel that has been crippled by the pandemic.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Sunday that vaccinated people should be able to return sooner to restaurants and cinemas, although other ministers have criticized his view.
Maros Sefcovic, a European Commission vice president, said it was important to stress that vaccination is voluntary – some people were unable or unwilling to receive a vaccine.
Sefcovic told a news conference after Monday’s meeting such people should not have their rights limited. However, vaccination could become a condition for travel, like current requirements in many countries for a negative COVID test.
“There will be different options how we handle travel … the possibility of the electronic vaccination certificate could be added,” he said.
Michael Roth, representing Germany on Monday, said it was vital to establish if vaccinated people could still transmit the coronavirus to others.
The EU executive is working to ensure that vaccination data can be collected electronically in a common form.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control will start collecting data from this week on vaccines delivered and vaccinations per country.
Sefcovic said EU countries needed to be largely synchronized to help keep open its single market, which allows freedom of movement of people and workers.
Many EU nations say they are receiving lower-than-expected supplies of COVID-19 vaccines and complain of uncertainty over future deliveries, EU officials have told Reuters.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Giles Elgood)