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Italy to simplify Covid travel rules for EU arrivals

Italy will ease coronavirus restrictions for arrivals from other EU countries from February,

A passenger shows an EU health pass on a mobile phone
Italy has changed its travel rules following an EU recommendation on use of the health pass system. Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP

Under a new decree signed by Health Minister Roberto Speranza late on Tuesday, “the ‘green pass’ will be sufficient for travellers coming from countries within the European Union” from next month.

This means arrivals from other EU countries from February will no longer need to show both proof of vaccination or recent recovery plus a negative test result.

It will also remove a requirement for unvaccinated passengers to quarantine for five days on arrival.

As cases of the Omicron variant surged in December, Italy’s health ministry brought in the current requirement for negative coronavirus tests from everyone, whether vaccinated or not, and a five-day quarantine for those who are not vaccinated – a decision which irritated Brussels.

The change to Italy’s rules was reported hours after a recommendation from the EU council, made up of member states, 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 health pass or 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 international travel, and not to the domestic health or vaccine passes that many EU countries, including Italy, now require to access venues such as bars.

The recommendation is comes into force on February 1st, but it is non-binding so individual EU countries would be free to impose whatever travel restrictions they wish

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.

Italy’s so-called green pass shows the bearer has been vaccinated, has recently recovered from the virus, or has tested negative.

EXPLAINED: How do Italy’s Covid vaccination rules apply to visitors?

Travellers from any European member state can show their country’s version of the green pass, or health pass – which is recognised on par with Italy’s.

The Italian health ministry is set to review its travel restrictions for arrivals from other countries by February 1st. The ministry has not yet given any indications as to whether it plans to change or extend existing rules.

In addition to the health pass requirement for travel, Italy is increasingly relying on the use of its domestic green pass, proving vaccination, testing or recovery.

The country now has a two-tiered system in place, with passes required for entry to almost all venues and services in the country.

From February 1st, Italy will make its green pass mandatory for entry to most shops, and will cut the validity of domestic passes issued based on vaccination from nine to six months.

For further details about Italy’s current Covid-19 health measures please see the Italian health ministry website (available in English).

Member comments

  1. Can anyone explain to me why Italy, a country with a very high vaccine uptake and low vaccine hesitancy, needs to coerce it’s people with these measures? What is the real motivation? I need to vaccinate my 12 year old son from an illness that poses him almost zero risk in order for him to continue his swimming lessons? That’s an outrage, why don’t most Italian people see this? Why isn’t anyone asking the questions of the benefit of these vaccine mandates?

    Firstly; vaccination rates are already very high in Italy – so why do we need to coerce people?
    Secondly; infection rates, hospitalizations and death data in Italy is comparable of worse (per capita) than countries such as the UK who have zero vaccine pass program. So what is the real purpose?

      1. Why would it? Maybe because UK visitors for both tourism and business are a massive source of revenue for the Italian state Tommy. They did the same last year after a little bit of time, recognizing the NHS vaccine QR code as adequate proof on par with the EU code.

        1. It’s an EU wide recommendation, not just Italian. The UK is a 3rd country now – it doesn’t deserve special treatment over others.

  2. What about people coming from the UK?

    I have a 3 month trip to Rome booked for March, will I still need additional tests to enter Italy? My vaccination status will last to mid June, following the 6 month new rule from 1st February.

    Beverley

  3. My wife and friends are booked to visit Italy in April. Being a mix of NHS staff and care workers they all got boosters in October. The 6 month ruling means their NHS covid passports will be invalid in April. The potential impact of this on visitors from Uk means many won’t be eligible for green pass and will go elsewhere. Wife now looking at Greece and Spain alternatives. Big impact on Italian tourism industry I suspect.

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TRAVEL NEWS

REVEALED: Countries fear non-EU travellers face delays under new EES border checks

A number of countries in Europe's Schengen area admit they fear delays and insufficient time to test the process ahead of new, more rigorous EU border checks that will be introduced next year, a new document reveals.

REVEALED: Countries fear non-EU travellers face delays under new EES border checks

Schengen countries are tightening up security at the external borders with the introduction of a new digital system (EES) to record the entry and exit of non-EU citizens in May 2023.

The EES will enable the automatic scanning of passports replacing manual stamping by border guards. It will register the person’s name, type of the travel document, biometric data (fingerprints and facial images) and the date and place of entry and exit. The data will be kept in a centralised database on a rolling three-year basis that is re-set at each entry. 

What the EES is intended to do is increase border security, including the enforcement of the 90-day short-stay limit for tourists and visitors.

EU citizens and third-country nationals who reside in a country of the Schengen area will not be subject to such checks as long as they can prove residency in an EU country however they will still be caught up in any delays at passport control if the new system as many fear, causes longer processing times.

READ ALSO: Foreigners living in EU not covered by new EES border checks

But given its scale, the entry into operation of the system has been raising concerns on many fronts, including the readiness of the physical and digital infrastructure, and the time required for border checks, which could subsequently cause massive queues at borders.

A document on the state of preparations was distributed last week by the secretariat of the EU Council (the EU institution representing member states) and published by Statewatch, a non-profit organisation that monitors civil liberties.

The paper contains the responses from 21 countries to a questionnaire about potential impacts on passenger flows, the infrastructure put in place and the possibility of a gradual introduction of the new system over a number of months.

This is what certain the countries have responded. Responses from Denmark, Spain and Sweden do not appear in the report but the answers from other countries will be relevant for readers in those countries.

READ ALSO: What the EU’s new EES border check system means for travel

‘Double processing time’

Austria and Germany are the most vocal in warning that passport processing times will increase when the EES will become operational.

“The additional tasks resulting from the EES regulation will lead to a sharp increase in process times”, which are expected to “double compared to the current situation,” Austrian authorities say. “This will also affect the waiting times at border crossing points (in Austria, the six international airports),” the document continues.

“Furthermore, border control will become more complicated since in addition to the distinction between visa-exempt and visa-required persons, we will also have to differentiate between EES-required and EES-exempt TCN [third country nationals], as well as between registered and unregistered TCN in EES,” Austrian officials note.

Based on an analysis of passenger traffic carried out with the aviation industry, German authorities estimate that checking times will “increase significantly”.

France expects to be ready for the introduction of the EES “in terms of passenger routes, training and national systems,” but admits that “fluidity remains a concern” and “discussions are continuing… to make progress on this point”.

Italy is also “adapting the border operational processes… in order to contain the increased process time and ensure both safety and security”.

“Despite many arguments for the introduction of automated border control systems based on the need for efficiency, the document makes clear that the EES will substantially increase border crossing times,” Statewatch argues.

‘Stable service unlikely by May 2023’

The border infrastructure is also being adapted for collecting and recording the data, with several countries planning for automated checks. So what will change in practice?

France will set up self-service kiosks in airports, where third-country nationals can pre-register their biometric data and personal information before being directed to the booth for verification with the border guard. The same approach will be adopted for visitors arriving by bus, while tablet devices such as iPads will be used for the registration of car passengers at land and sea borders.

Germany also plans to install self-service kiosks at the airports to “pre-capture” biometric data before border checks. But given the little time for testing the full process, German authorities say “a stable working EES system seems to be unlikely in May 2023.”

Austria intends to install self-service kiosks at the airports of Vienna and Salzburg “in the course of 2023”. Later these will be linked to existing e-gates enabling a “fully automated border crossing”. Austrian authorities also explain that airport operators are seeking to provide more space for kiosks and queues, but works will not be completed before the system is operational.

Italy is increasing the “equipment of automated gates in all the main  airport” and plans to install, at least in the first EES phase, about 600 self-service kiosks at the airports of Rome Fiumicino, Milan Malpensa, Venice and in those with “significant volumes of extra-Schengen traffic,” such as Bergamo, Naples, Bologna and Turin.

Switzerland, which is not an EU member but is part of the Schengen area, is also installing self-service kiosks to facilitate the collection of data. Norway, instead, will have “automated camera solutions operated by the border guards”, but will consider self-service options only after the EES is in operation.

Gradual introduction?

One of the possibilities still in consideration is the gradual introduction of the new system. The European Commission has proposed a ‘progressive approach’ that would allow the creation of “incomplete” passenger files for 9 months following the EES entry into operation, and continuing passport stamping for 3 months.

According to the responses, Italy is the only country favourable to this option. For Austria and France this “could result in more confusion for border guards and travellers”. French officials also argue that a lack of biometric data will “present a risk for the security of the Schengen area”.

France suggested to mitigate with “flexibility” the EES impacts in the first months of its entry into service. In particular, France calls for the possibility to not create EES files for third-country nationals who entered the Schengen area before the system becomes operational, leaving this task to when they return later.

This would “significantly ease the pressure” on border guards “during the first three months after entry into service,” French authorities said.

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