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Europe’s Vaccine Passport Dilemma and The Imminent Third Wave

Summer will come soon to Europe, and the first wave of vaccines has already been rolled out to a portion of the general population. This summer will be the first time vaccination passports will be used to gate travel between countries. No system has been tested at a large scale at this point, so it will be a learning experience for governments and the travel industry alike; However, for many younger individuals in Europe, there is another problem that is brewing. Systematic unfairness in the way vaccines are distributed has made many individuals frustrated with the vaccine rollout system.

The importance of this summer to the European travel industry cannot be understated. Many southern European nations receive millions of travelers during the summer and have key industries based purely around visitors. Countries such as Greece need travelers to get the money for their national budget every year. Many travelers will want to visit key locations such as Rome, Paris, Florence, and Barcelona. The local economies of key cities will feel an economic revitalization if the 2021 summer tourism wave is strong enough; however, the types of tourists that visit the cities this year could be drastically different from previous years.

The rollout of vaccines in Europe has systematically benefitted specific nations and groups of people as part of the plan. Travelers who fly to vacation destinations across Europe this summer will most likely be older than 50 and from more affluent nations that could acquire enough vaccines. Younger people and less affluent European Union countries will be out of luck by summer, given the current rate of vaccination in the EU. This systematic selectiveness has made many younger individuals unhappy that their summer will be spent in their houses. People from less influential EU countries will also have to spend a long summer at home, which will undoubtedly make some folks peeved. Selectively vaccinating people makes sense for health purposes, but the division between the privileged vaccinated individuals and unprivileged others has made many question the practice in recent weeks.

The EU plans to create a secondary test to allow unvaccinated individuals to qualify for a health passport, but this could have its own problems. The secondary health test might have a moderate cost which could be a major factor for some less fortunate EU citizens. Secondary health tests might also require multiple testing appointments before you travel and after you arrive at a location. This testing regimen would dampen anyone’s vacation. 

The lack of vaccines for entire classes will be a problem during the summer regardless of travel-related issues due to the third wave of covid-19 that is coming. According to DW news, a research team at Oxford University claims that the seven-day incidence rate has risen 60% across Europe. The new wave of cases will not affect everyone equally, but most large countries on the continent will feel the stress on their health systems come June. A spike in cases would force more lockdowns and business shutdowns in key economic cities. Covid-19’s third wave could also have major political effects for the European Union.

Angela Merkel will be stepping down later this year, and this leaves a power vacuum in EU politics. The current handling of the coronavirus has already placed significant pressure on Merkel and her party, and a sudden third wave of covid-19 cases would only double the existing pressure. Many countries have been discontent with the covid-19 response and are no doubt vying to be Europe’s next leader. Merkel’s party could still win the German elections, but the political stature of Merkel’s replacement will be much less influential compared to the previous German chancellor. 

The discontent among European nations has also placed pressure on getting the proposed covid-19 plan passed. Many nations such as Hungary will be likely to challenge the plan or offer possible edits before they approve the idea. Accepting the plan would be an important step in creating a standardized approach to dealing with travel amid a covid-19 infested Europe. Without a standardized plan, the patchwork of different covid-19 vaccination certificates would be impossible for any average EU citizen to understand. There have already been vaccination passports such as Common Pass for the Australian airline Qantas. Another vaccine system is being set up by the International Air Transport Association(IATA) that allows passengers to upload a certificate of covid-19 test results to use for smooth travel through airports.

The 2021 summer will be a contentious time in Europe where some people have the time of their lives, while others stay at home and battle against covid-19 bureaucracy for months. Europe’s political landscape will be changed significantly by the next few months for better or for worse.

Sources: https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/eu-vaccination-passports-summer/index.html, https://www.dw.com/en/third-wave-the-latest-covid-19-rules-and-regulations-in-europe/a-56955631, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/15/world/europe/germany-merkel-christian-democrats.html

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