By RAF CASERT
BRUSSELS (AP) — As the European summer vacation season hit its stride Thursday with a new EU-wide travel pass in place, the bloc’s medical office and a top airline chief issued reassuring messages on traveling, despite the threat of the surging delta coronavirus variant.
Many airports saw busy scenes as masses of people sought to escape to the sunny southern European Union nations for a beach holiday, with the digital COVID-19 travel certificate a must-have.
The EU Digital Certificate came officially into effect Thursday even though many member states had started introducing it over the past month, seeking to boost their summer season by making movement as seamless as possible.
“With this, everyone in Europe should be able to travel safely and freely this summer,” said EU Commission spokesman Christian Wigand. And in a bloc of 450 million citizens, he said that “already until now, more than two hundred million certificates have been generated.”
All warned about the need for extreme vigilance though, after COVID-19 devastated families and economies across the 27-nation bloc over the past year.
But Dr. Marco Cavaleri, the European Medicines Agency’s head of vaccines strategy, was reassuring Thursday. He said that the four approved vaccines in the EU are all “protective against all strains that are circulating in Europe, including the delta variant” that emerged in India and is more contagious than others.
“Emerging data from real world evidence are showing that two doses of vaccines are protective against the delta variant,” he told reporters.
For airline industry leaders with a huge financial stake in this, such as Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary, those are sweet words. “A huge amount of both the U.K. population and, increasingly, the European adult population are fully vaccinated, therefore they are not at risk,” he said, announcing the opening of more routes south from Brussels airports.
It doesn’t mean all tourism transport has gone back to its smooth former self. Take, for example, travel between Germany and Portugal.
Germany classifies countries in three risk categories, and Portugal on Tuesday became the only EU member listed as a “virus variant area,” Berlin’s highest-risk bracket.
Airlines and others are restricted largely in transporting German citizens and residents from countries on that list, and those who arrive must spend 14 days in quarantine at home — a period that can’t be cut short with a negative test.
The UK. has been on the list since May 23 because of concerns over the spread of the delta variant. Russia was added along with Portugal on Tuesday; other “virus variant areas” include India, Brazil and South Africa. Portugal was listed for an initial two-week period, which may be extended.
Ryanair Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Leary poses for photographers during a media conference in Brussels, Thursday, July 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)