European summer comes closer as seven countries roll out COVID-19 certificates for travel
Toni Waterman in Brussels
Europe;Brussels, Belgium

Seven European countries have started issuing the EU's digital COVID-19 certificate as the bloc aims to cut down on the hassle of testing and quarantine. and reboot the tourism industry.  

Bulgaria, Czechia, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Croatia and Poland plugged into the EU 'gateway' a month ahead of schedule - and are issuing the passes to their citizens and accepting them from visitors. The central gateway forms the backbone of the EU's COVID-19 certificate by connecting all 27-member states and verifying the documents are authentic.  

Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton said seven member states was a good start, but encouraged others to "follow as soon as possible. The timely preparation will allow the full system to be up and running by July 1 when the proposal enters into application and the EU will be on time to open up again this summer."

Mock-up of the EU digital COVID Certificate.

Mock-up of the EU digital COVID Certificate.

Brussels said 22 countries had successfully tested the system over the past month. Member states can start issuing the certificates on a voluntary basis, but come July, all 27 EU countries will have to be linked to the system. There is a six-week grace period for countries to finish working out the kinks.  

The EU's digital COVID-19 certificate takes the form of a QR code and is issued to people who have been fully vaccinated, have recovered from COVID-19 or have tested negative for the virus within the previous 72 hours. The pass, which is free and also comes in paper form, is meant to exempt travelers from testing and quarantine.  

"EU citizens are looking forward to traveling again, and they want to do so safely. Having an EU certificate is a crucial step on the way," said Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety. 

The COVID-19 pass could be the jolt the EU tourism industry and its 30 million workers need. It is also seen as a way to restore some semblance of free movement around the bloc after 15 months of cross-border restrictions.  

For now, the COVID-19 certificate is for European Union citizens only. But the longer term goal is to open it up to third-party countries. Brussels is in talks with the U.S. to extend the program but it is unclear when that may happen.

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