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EU countries agree to simplify travel rules with Covid certificates

EU countries have agreed to make it easier for anyone with an EU Covid-19 certificate to travel within the bloc without having to face any further restrictions such as tests or quarantine.

A customer shows her EU Covid-19 certificate
EU countries agree to simplify travel rules with Covid certificates Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

The EU council, made up of member states has agreed a new recommendation, that countries should base their travel rules on an individual case rather than the region they are travelling from.

That would mean those with an EU Covid certificate, which proves vaccination, recovery or a negative test would be allowed to travel freely within the EU or Schengen zone without the need for extra tests or quarantine, even if they were coming from a country with high Covid infection rates.

This refers only to travel, and not to the domestic health or vaccine passes that many EU countries now require to access venues such as bars.

The aim of the recommendation is to “take into account the advantage of the individual situation of people, especially vaccinated people, and limit for them as much as possible travel restrictions in Europe,” France’s European Affairs Secretary Clément Beaune said.

The recommendation is set to come into force on February 1st, but it is non-binding so individual EU countries would be free to impose whatever travel restrictions they wish if they feel the need.

The EU created its Covid-19 certificate scheme to try to ensure free movement throughout the bloc but as infections spiked again in the winter certain countries chose to reimpose extra restrictions on all travellers.

In December Italy tightened travel restrictions for arrivals from other countries within the European Union.

All travellers to Italy from other EU countries have been forced to take a coronavirus test before departure and unvaccinated arrivals must quarantine for five days. That rule is in place until at least February 1st when it may be replaced by the EU’s new recommendation.

Under the EU’s recommendations from February 1st travellers should be able to freely travel to another EU country if they have had their primary course of vaccination a maximum of 270 days ago (roughly nine months) or if they have received their booster shot.

Those who have recovered from Covid in the last 180 days, and passengers who have had a PCR test 72 hours before arriving or an antigen test 24 hours before should also be allowed to enter without any further test requirements or need to quarantine.

Those without an EU Covid certificates could face extra testing requirements, although the EU recommends essential workers, cross-border commuters and children under 12 should be completely exempt.

However the one exception is if a country is classed “dark red” on the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s colour-coded risk map. In this case country’s could impose extra travel rules even on the vaccinated.

Given the spike in Omicron cases most of the EU is currently coloured dark red. But the map will soon be modified to take into account a country’s vaccination rates when determining risk level.

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TOURISM

Why Italian resorts are struggling to fill jobs this summer

Italy's tourist season is expected to be back in full swing this year - but will there be enough workers to meet the demand?

Why Italian resorts are struggling to fill jobs this summer

Italy’s tourist numbers are booming, sparking hopes that the industry could see a return to something not far off pre-pandemic levels by the summer.

There’s just one catch: there aren’t nearly enough workers signing up for seasonal jobs this year to supply all that demand.

READ ALSO: Will tourism in Italy return to pre-pandemic levels this year?

“There’s a 20 percent staff shortage, the situation is dramatic,” Fulvio Griffa, president of the Italian tourist operators federation Fiepet Confesercenti, told the Repubblica news daily.

Estimates for how many workers Italy is missing this season range from 70,000 (the figure given by the small and medium enterprise federation Conflavoro PMI) to 300-350,000 (the most recent estimate from Tourism Minister Massimo Garavaglia, who last month quoted 250,000).

Whatever the exact number is, everyone agrees: it’s a big problem.

READ ALSO: Dining outdoors and hiking: How visitors plan to holiday in Italy this summer

Italy isn’t the only European country facing this issue. France is also short an estimated 300,000 seasonal workers this year. Spain is down 50,000 waiters, and Austria is missing 15,000 hired hands across its food and tourism sectors.

Italy’s economy, however, is particularly dependent on tourism. If the job vacancies can’t be filled and resorts are unable to meet the demand anticipated this summer, the country stands to lose an estimated  €6.5 billion.

Italy's tourism businesses are missing an estimated 20 percent of workers.
Italy’s tourism businesses are missing an estimated 20 percent of workers. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

“After two years of pandemic, it would be a sensational joke to miss out on a summer season that is expected to recover strongly due to the absence of workers,” said Vittorio Messina, president of the Assoturismo Confesercenti tourist association.

Different political factions disagree as to exactly what (and who) is to blame for the lack of interest from applicants.

READ ALSO: Travel in Italy and Covid rules this summer: what to expect

Italy’s tourism minister Massimo Garavaglia, a member of the right wing League party, has singled out the reddito di cittadinanza, or ‘citizen’s income’ social security benefit introduced by the populist Five Star Movement in 2019 for making unemployment preferable to insecure, underpaid seasonal work.

Bernabò Bocca, the president of the hoteliers association Federalberghi, agrees with him – along with large numbers of small business owners.

“What’s going to make an unemployed person come to me for 1,300 euros a month if he can stay sprawled on the beach and live off the damned citizenship income?” complained an anonymous restauranteur interviewed by the Corriere della Sera news daily.

“Before Covid, I had a stack of resumes this high on my desk in April. Now I’m forced to check emails every ten minutes hoping someone will come forward. Nothing like this had ever happened to me.” 

READ ALSO: MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

Italy is experiencing a dire shortage of workers this tourist season.
Italy is experiencing a dire shortage of workers this tourist season. Photo: Andrea Pattaro / AFP.

Five Star MPs, however, argue that the focus on the unemployment benefit is a distraction from the real issues of job insecurity and irregular contracts.

There appears to be some merit to that theory. A recent survey of 1,650 seasonal workers found that only 3 percent of the people who didn’t work in the 2021 tourist season opted out due to the reddito di cittadinza.

In fact the majority (75 percent) of respondents who ended up not working over the 2021 season said they had searched for jobs but couldn’t find any openings because the Covid situation had made it too uncertain for companies to hire in advance.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

Others said the most of jobs that were advertised were only for a 2-3 month duration, half the length of the season (again, due to Covid uncertainty), making it not worth their while to relocate.

Giancarlo Banchieri, a hotelier who is also president of the Confesercenti business federation, agrees that Covid has been the main factor in pushing workers away from the industry, highlighting “the sense of precariousness that this job has taken on in the last two years: many people have abandoned it for fear of the uncertainty of a sector that has experienced a terrible time.”

The instability brought about by two years of Covid restrictions has pushed many workers away from the tourism sector.
The instability brought about by two years of Covid restrictions has pushed many workers away from the tourism sector. Photo: Andrea Pattaro / AFP.

“I said goodbye to at least seven employees, and none of them are sitting at home on the citizen’s income,” Banchieri told Repubblica. “They have all reinvented themselves elsewhere; some are plumbers, others work in the municipality.”

READ ALSO: OPINION: Mass tourism is back in Italy – but the way we travel is changing

To counteract the problem, Garavaglia has proposed three measures: increasing the numbers of visas available for seasonal workers coming from abroad; allowing people to work in summer jobs while continuing to receive 50 percent of their citizen’s income; and reintroducing a voucher system that allows casual workers to receive the same kinds of welfare and social security benefits as those on more formal contracts.

Whether these will be enough to save Italy’s 2022 tourist season remains to be seen, but at this stage industry operators will take whatever fixes are offered.

“The sector is in such a dire situation that any common sense proposals much be welcomed,” the Federalberghi president Bocca told journalists.

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