By Francesco Guarascio
(Reuters) – Brussels is pushing to lift an “inefficient” travel ban on southern African states over the Omicron variant, but European Union nations are reluctant to drop it, the EU’s commissioner for justice Didier Reynders told Reuters on Tuesday.
Late in November, EU states agreed to impose travel curbs on seven southern African countries after they reported several cases of the Omicron variant.
Reynders said the ban had become inefficient because the EU had other tools, including quarantines and tests, to manage the flow of travellers from countries with several Omicron cases.
In addition to that, the spread of the variant to many other countries in the world, including EU states, further weakened the rationale for that measure.
But EU states remained reluctant to lift the ban, he said, noting that a new request by the Commission made at a meeting of EU experts on Monday had been rejected by EU governments.
“We will continue to push not only for diplomatic reasons, but also because is becoming inefficient. We have other tools,” he said, citing “huge pressure” from South Africa to remove the ban.
Reynders also said the European Commission was not in favour of measures adopted by seven EU governments that require vaccinated travellers from other EU nations to present a negative test, even if they have a valid COVID-19 certificate.
He added the measures appeared to be partly justified by fears over the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, but that the executive Commission was still assessing whether they were proportionate and necessary.
“We prefer to use for the free movement in Europe only the certificate without additional measures,” he said.
Despite this partial setback, the EU certificate was increasingly used across the world.
“It’s becoming a global standard,” Reynders said.
He added that more than 30 countries across the world were using the EU’s travel pass, in addition to the 27 EU states, and over 80 more were also asking to use it.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; Editing by Mark Potter and Alison Williams)