EU countries should lower the price of PCR tests in order facilitate the rollout of the EU's travel pass this summer, the bloc's justice commissioner told Euronews.
Once implemented, the digital green certificate will enable cross-border travel for those who can provide, at least, one of three basic elements: vaccination, a negative PCR test and a medical statement showing the person has recovered from COVID-19 in the last 180 days.
"We don't want to put the vaccination as a precondition to travel," EU commissioner Didier Reynders told Euronews.
He is confident that the pace of vaccination will continue to accelerate during the second quarter of the year. Still, he asked member states to make PCR tests more accessible and affordable to ensure that those who haven't yet got the jab can also apply for the EU's green pass.
"For the next weeks, we'll continue to go further with the vaccination and it will give the possibility for the others to continue to travel with a PCR test and a quarantine, if needed," he said.
"It's the reason why we insist [that] member states will be ready to have a low price for the test, because if you need to organise a test, it must be possible to do that in a very fast way."
The European Commission expects to start negotiations on the EU-wide vaccine passports at the beginning of May and then to launch a pilot project in early June to test that it works across borders, with the final goal of having the travel scheme in place before the start of the summer, Reynders explained.
The proposal is being fast-tracked in the European Parliament and has wide backing from national governments, making it easier to advance the legal text through the different stages of the EU policy cycle. The improvement of vaccine deliveries that the bloc has seen in recent weeks is also helping to build confidence and support.
"The certificate is prepared to [enter] into force in the beginning of the summer, maybe June or beginning of July. So I'm hoping at such a moment of time, we will have a huge rate of vaccinated people in the European Union," the justice commissioner said.
"In the first quarter, it was possible to provide member states with 100 million [vaccine] doses. In the second quarter, it will be more than 300 million doses and it's only increasing. So now we'll have maybe more of a logistical problem in the member states, not only to receive the dose, but to inoculate the different citizens."
"It will be a bit weird and crazy."
One dose enough to get the pass
Commissioner Reynders clarified that one dose of a vaccine will be enough to get the pass, but added that advice from health authorities should be taken into account. The certificate, which will take the form of a QR code, will clearly indicate if the holder has received one or two doses.
"Immediately after the first dose, you don't have a real protection. So we need to take into account all the different information coming from the health experts."
WHO has repeatedly opposed the idea of so-called vaccine passports because it considers there are still too many unanswered questions about vaccination, such as how long the immunity lasts and what the chances of transmitting the virus are after being inoculated.
"We fully share the [WHO] view," Reynders said. "It's the reason why, to avoid any discrimination, we are [including] the certificate of recovery, the vaccination and the PCR test."
"It's not a good idea to make a real link between the vaccine and travellers. It must be one of the possibilities. But if you are not vaccinated or you don't want to be vaccinated, it must be possible to travel with [a PCR] test and maybe quarantine."
This week France became the first EU country to launch a coronavirus travel pass, following the Commission's proposal.
The government has updated the TousAntiCovid tracing app to include negative tests and vaccination certificates. Spain has also announced it will roll-out a similar instrument in the coming days. Meanwhile, Denmark has launched a 'coronapas' to allow citizens to access non-essential businesses, such as hairdressers and beauty salons.