By Francesco Guarascio and Philip Blenkinsop
BRUSSELS – European Union countries are expected to agree to limit to nine months the duration of COVID-19 certificates for travel, two EU sources told Reuters, as talks continue about restrictions for inbound travellers from outside the bloc.
The EU executive commission proposed in November a nine-month validity limit for COVID-19 passes from the completion of the primary vaccine doses. If applied, EU citizens wanting to travel freely next summer across the bloc would need a booster shot.
One EU official and one EU diplomat said EU governments were expected to reach a consensus on the nine-month limit as early as Friday after a preliminary agreement on Thursday, although one said talks could stretch into next week.
A third diplomat said there was general support for the nine-month limit, but some countries with lower vaccination rates were concerned about the impact this could have on travel.
EU governments have repeatedly said a common approach is needed to avoid further disruption for the travel industry. However, they have introduced diverging rules.
France set a seven-month limit on the day the Commission proposed it should be nine months. The French rule is to apply from Jan. 15, whereas the Commission has proposed a Jan. 10 start.
A spokesman for the French embassy at the EU had no immediate comment on the issue.
In Cyprus, the certificate is to last seven months, whereas in Greece it would expire after six months for older people.
EU officials said both countries were willing to change to a common EU limit.
EU health experts are also set to discuss on Thursday the lifting of travel curbs on southern African countries and the introduction of the obligation of a negative PCR test for all incoming travellers from outside the bloc, even if vaccinated, a person familiar with the discussions told Reuters.
In line with many countries, EU members agreed late in November to impose travel curbs on seven southern African nations after they reported several cases of the Omicron variant, which is considered highly infectious.
Sources said that the PCR requirement was widely supported, whereas the timing for the lifting of curbs was not clear.
On Tuesday, EU health ministers were cautious about lifting travel curbs, but the situation is evolving rapidly as new data on Omicron emerges.