EU leaders have agreed to further enhance cooperation between member states in order to fight COVID-19, as the pandemic continues to rage across the continent.
A meeting of the European Council was hosted virtually by President Charles Michel on Thursday, with heads of state and government discussing how to collectively limit the spread of new and emerging variants of the virus, as well as ensuring that rollout and production of vaccines are coordinated more effectively by the Commission.
The highly-contagious nature of some of the newly discovered variants is a major source of concern for European leaders.
Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander de Croo proposed an EU-wide ban on non-essential travel in order to curb transmission of it, but the 27 member bloc decided, for now, against this option.
They said that borders must stay open to ensure the functioning of the Single Market, including the flow of essential goods and services, and that no indiscriminate travel bans should be imposed.
However, leaders did note that measures restricting non-essential travel in the EU may be needed to contain the spread of the virus.
For the German government, extensive border controls would be the last resort and no member state wants to see a complete closure of internal borders, as happened last spring.
Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke some hours before the videoconference saying: "It (the videoconference) will be about mutation. It will be about how we combat this spread with measures that are as equivalent as possible throughout the European Union, because, epidemiologically speaking, we are one area as the European Union."
Discussions were also focused on how to speed up vaccinations across the continent and the need for a so-called common vaccination certificate or passport.
Leaders said they will work on a standardised and interoperable form of proof of vaccination for medical purposes and will determine at a later stage in what circumstances these certificates could be used.
EU countries also agreed at the meeting on a common framework for the use of rapid antigen tests and mutual recognition of rapid antigen and RT-PCR tests across Europe
An announcement on the conclusions of the meeting is expected on Thursday evening.