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European Union plans for a coronavirus vaccine passport could be opened up to British tourists and other non-EU holidaymakers, Brussels said on Monday.
Ursula von der Leyen said the EU-wide “Digital Green Pass” would be proposed this month and that it could be a first step towards a virus passport for travel from outside the bloc.
"The Digital Green Pass should facilitate Europeans‘ lives. The aim is to gradually enable them to move safely in the EU or abroad - for work or tourism,” the European Commission president said.
The chief spokesman for the European Commission said the process would be done "step by step".
“We work on a European solution now, this is where we start and then anything else would need to come after,” he said.
"We’re of the view that in collaboration with the World Health Organisation there should be a way to scale this up globally."
The UK said it was looking into the idea.
“The Department for Transport will work and speak to countries across the world in terms of how they may look to introduce passports," the Prime Minister’s spokesman said in London.
The Green Pass will include information such as whether the carrier has ever had coronavirus, been tested or vaccinated and is aimed at “facilitating safe free movement in the European Union.” The legislation will be put forward on March 17.
Spanish Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto said that work should be speeded up to save the summer season and enable safe travel from the UK.
“It is important to have the tools ready to start mobility and make Europe a safe travel destination again as soon as the virus incidence data allows for this,” Ms Maroto said at a meeting of EU tourism ministers in Lisbon.
Pedro Siza Viera, Portugal's economy minister, said it was “important” for EU member states to tell the commission the tourist sector had to be reopened.
“Tourism is very significant from the point of view of the economy, but also employment across the EU. At the same time, it has been the industry which is most impacted by the restrictions,” he said.
Fernando Valdés, Spain’s secretary of state for tourism, said that his government would look to do a bilateral deal with Britain on a Covid passport system if there was no final agreement between EU states.
“Right now we have discussions with our colleagues in the UK – for us the British market is our main market,” Mr Valdés told Bloomberg.
He said that if a European solution was not possible, Spain would then look to other options, “like green tourism corridors with third countries that can help us to restart tourism flows”.
Greece was expected to renew its calls for the international passport at the meeting after it was reported it had held bilateral talks with the UK and Israel over travel.
The EU has a ban on non-essential travel into the bloc but, with borders a national rather than European power, there is little to stop Athens going it alone.
Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, warned last week after an EU summit that there had been no political discussions or decisions on how the certificate or international vaccination passports would work.
The Belgian government said the plans risked discriminating against people who had not been vaccinated.
"For Belgium, there is no question of linking vaccination to the freedom of movement around Europe" said Sophie Wilmes, the foreign minister.
"Respect for the principle of non-discrimination is more fundamental than ever since vaccination is not compulsory and access to the vaccine is not yet generalised."
Paris and Berlin want more data on whether vaccinated people can still infect others and are wary of introducing the passports before more people in the EU, which has lagged behind Britain in its vaccine roll-out, are vaccinated.
Mrs von der Leyen has said she is “confident” that the EU will hit its target of vaccinating 70 percent of the adult population by the end of the summer.
At its current rate, Spain will have vaccinated only 15 per cent of population by early July, but it has used 80 per cent of the 4.5 million doses it has received so far, suggesting it will be able to accelerate when greater supplies arrive.
A string of EU countries imposed age limits on the AstraZeneca vaccine, banning it for use on the over 55s and over 65s, but there are signs that is changing to push up vaccination figures.
Spain’s Health Ministry said it would consider lifting the age limit on the AstraZeneca vaccine from 55 to 65.
In Germany there were calls to drop the limit on the jab for the over 65s. Markus Soeder and Michael Kretschmer, the regional leaders of Bavaria and Saxony, said the vaccine should be made available to all over-18s in hotspots with high infection rates.
Belgium’s Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said on Sunday that it would be “a game changer” if the jab was approved for use in the over 55s.