From cruise ship passengers to cargo vessel crew, many have found themselves stranded at sea or quarantined in ports since the coronavirus pandemic first took hold. The guidelines issued by the European Commission today support these individuals, providing recommendations on health, repatriation and travel arrangements. They also announce the establishment of a network of designated ports for crew changes.
How many people (crews and passengers) have been stranded on cruise ships because of coronavirus?
All commercial cruises have been suspended until further notice. However, we have been informed by the European Maritime Safety Agency that between 8 and 11 April, 11 cruise ships will approach Europe, carrying around 8 000 people. More EU citizens, passengers and crew, are still onboard ships elsewhere, and are waiting to return home.
What sorts of goods are cargo ships carrying?
Cargo ships carry everything, from bulk raw materials, gas and oil to containers full of electronics and active pharmaceutical ingredients needed to produce medicines. Maritime transport plays an essential role in the international trade of EU goods, and 75% of goods traded by the EU are transported by sea. To keep our economy running in these difficult times, it is of utmost importance to keep ships sailing and ports operational.
What are designated ports for crew changes? Why should Member States agree to create a network of such ports?
The Guidelines recommend that Member States and the Commission lead a coordinated effort to designate several ports in the Union for fast-track crew changes. These specifically ‘designated ports should geographically cover the Union and should be connected to operational airports and rail stations. Dedicated or regular flight and rail operations could ensure the transport connections for in- and outgoing crew, allowing seafarers to be repatriated quickly.
‘Designated ports’ should have nearby accommodation where seafarers can wait for the ship they should board, or for their flight, train or ship home. This accommodation should have adequate facilities to allow them self-isolate for 14 days before embarking and after disembarking if the Member State in question requires this, and if testing is not available.
It is in the Member States’ interests to create a network of such ports, and we ask Member States to come forward with nominations.
How will crew members and passengers travel on to their home countries if hardly any flights/international trains are running?
The guidelines suggest that Member States require ship operators to communicate certain details about a ship’s occupants, including intended destination, before the ship reaches the port. This will give the national authorities more time to contact consulates and embassies in order to support the repatriation for the individuals involved.
Whose responsibility is it to take care of non-EU crew members disembarking within the EU?
Responsibility for repatriating seafarers lies first with the ship-owner; failing action to this effect by the ship-owner, the ship’s flag State is responsible. If the seafarer is in good health, and there are no COVID-19 cases on board his or her ship, the ship-owner is obliged under the Maritime Labour Convention to repatriate the seafarers and to cover the cost of the repatriation. If the seafarer has COVID-19 symptoms and is unable to travel back home, the ship-owner must cover the expenses for medical care, food and accommodation until the seafarer recovers.
Where should cruise ships dock?
For ships flagged in an EU Member State, the flag State should allow passengers and crew to disembark in one of its ports and help to make the necessary arrangements for repatriation and access to medical care as appropriate.
If it is not possible or practical for the flag State to accommodate a ship, it should help the cruise ship operators to make appropriate arrangements with other EU Member States or elsewhere. The arrangements should minimise the time the vessel stays at sea while providing good medical infrastructure and transport connections for repatriations.
If the ship is flying a non-EU flag, Member States should accommodate it for humanitarian reasons, but it is recommended that they ask the cruise ship operator to make appropriate financial and logistical arrangements (e.g. required personal protective equipment, facilities for quarantine, hiring of buses, charter flights) before docking. If such arrangements are not found, Member States should in any case consider disembarking any passengers and crew safely and swiftly, before facilitating their transit home.
Should crews/passengers be automatically quarantined when disembarking?
Quarantine requirements are a matter for every individual EU Member State.
Throughout the course of docking, if anyone on board presents symptoms compatible with COVID-19 (including sudden onset of at least one of the following: cough, fever, or shortness of breath), this should be reported to the competent authority immediately.
Those suspected of having the virus should either disembark and be isolated and treated ashore, or be isolated on board (according to procedures described in the EU HEALTHY GATEWAYS advice) until asymptomatic, unless their condition worsens and requires hospitalisation ashore. Decisions on individual cases will be taken by the port state’s competent authority, based on a risk assessment and the situation within the community (containment or mitigation phase).
All individuals leaving the ship should be asked to complete a Passenger/Crew Locator Form before leaving the ship, and the captain should keep this document on board for at least one month. The competent authority should give approval before any individual disembarks, based on an assessment of that person’s health.
Is it not safer for people to stay on a ship until the pandemic passes, rather than disembark?
In some cases, crew and/or passengers may indeed be better off staying on board the ship, provided that the appropriate sanitary measures are in place. This needs to be assessed by the ship’s master and the port state competent authorities on a case-by-case basis. For cruise ships, for example, it should be assessed if the air used by the air-conditioning system can be taken exclusively from the outside (with less chance of virus spread), or whether it is being re-circulated inside the ship, which could in certain cases lead to the infection of passengers healthy to date.
Do any Member States or ports have robust procedures in place, which other countries and ports could learn from?
In order to ensure the docking of the cruise ships Zaandam and Rotterdam in Florida on 2 April, the cruise operator took responsibility for organising repatriations / medical treatment while the flag State (the Netherlands) assisted diplomatically. An agreement between the cruise line and local and federal US authorities foresaw that all passengers first received health screenings and then healthy passengers were allowed to fly home.
What about fishermen?
The fishing industry employs a considerable number of international crew members, both EU and non-EU citizens; an estimated 8% of crew members are from outside EU/EEA countries. Travel to and from the fishing vessels and border crossings should be facilitated for these essential workers. The guidelines therefore recall the importance of applying the recently adopted Guidelines for border management measures in this sector, to protect health and ensure the availability of goods and essential services. Member States should facilitate the transit of EU and third-country fishermen who are EU residents so that they may return home.
EU clears way for the EU Digital COVID Certificate
Today, the Presidents of the three EU institutions, the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the European Commission attended the official signing ceremony for the Regulation on the EU Digital COVID Certificate, marking the end of the legislative process. On this occasion Presidents David Sassoli and Ursula von der Leyen and Prime Minister António Costa said:
“The EU Digital COVID Certificate is a symbol of what Europe stands for. Of a Europe that does not falter when put to the test. A Europe that unites and grows when faced with challenges. Our Union showed again that we work best when we work together. The EU Digital COVID Certificate Regulation was agreed between our institutions in the record time of 62 days. While we worked through the legislative process, we also built the technical backbone of the system, the EU gateway, which is live since 1 June.
We can be proud of this great achievement. The Europe that we all know and that we all want back is a Europe without barriers. The EU Certificate will again enable citizens to enjoy this most tangible and cherished of EU rights – the right to free movement. Signed into law today, it will enable us to travel more safely this summer. Today we reaffirm together that an open Europe prevails.”
EU Digital COVID Certificate
The aim of the EU Digital COVID Certificate is to facilitate safe and free movement inside the EU during the COVID-19 pandemic. All Europeans have the right to free movement, also without the certificate, but the certificate will facilitate travel, exempting holders from restrictions like quarantine.
The EU Digital COVID Certificate will be accessible for everyone and it will:
- cover COVID-19 vaccination, test and recovery;
- be free of charge and available in all EU languages;
- be available in a digital and paper-based format;
- be secure and include a digitally signed QR code;
Member States shall refrain from imposing additional travel restrictions on the holders of an EU Digital COVID Certificate, unless they are necessary and proportionate to safeguard public health.
In addition, the Commission committed to mobilising €100 million under the Emergency Support Instrument to support Member States in providing affordable tests.
The Regulation will apply for 12 months as of 1 July 2021.
On 17 March 2021, the European Commission presented a proposal to create an EU COVID Certificate to facilitate the safe free movement of citizens within the EU during the pandemic. On 20 May, co-legislators reached a provisional agreement. On 1 June, the technical backbone of the systems, the EU gateway, went live. The gateway allows the verification of the security features contained in the QR codes.
Following the official signature today, the Regulation will enter into application on 1 July, with a phasing-in period of six weeks for the issuance of certificates for those Member States that need additional time.
13 Member States have already started to issue EU Digital COVID Certificates.
EU proposes a strong multilateral trade response to the COVID-19 pandemic
EU has submitted its proposal seeking the commitment of World Trade Organization (WTO) members for a multilateral trade action plan to expand the production of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, and ensure universal and fair access. With this proposal to the WTO, divided in two communications, the EU underlines the WTO’s central role in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and urges fellow WTO members to agree on a set of commitments, including on intellectual property rights.
President von der Leyen said: “The EU has actively shown solidarity with the world since the beginning of the pandemic. The European Union authorized exports of around half of the total amount of vaccines produced in Europe. Our immediate, urgent goal is to ensure equitable access for low – and middle-income countries, to share vaccines wider and faster. And we continue to help ramping up production. The EU proposes concrete short and medium term solutions to ensure universal access at affordable prices. I am looking forward to discuss with the G7 leaders next week how to achieve this goal. Beyond the current crisis, it is important to ensure global preparedness for future pandemics: diversifying manufacturing so that it is not centralised only in a handful of countries and strengthening the resilience of the healthcare infrastructure in least developed countries”.
Executive Vice-President and Commissioner for Trade Valdis Dombrovskis said: “The pandemic is still with us and there can be no room for complacency. We need to urgently concentrate on proposals that accelerate the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide. In this respect, a strong multilateral trade response could deliver a huge boost in the fight against COVID-19. In reality, the main problem at this moment relates to the lack of sufficient manufacturing capacity to rapidly produce the required quantities. The objective must be to ensure that any available and adequate manufacturing capacity anywhere in the world is used for the COVID-19 vaccines production.”
More on the EU’s proposal
The EU calls on governments to:
- Ensure that COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and their components can cross borders freely;
- encourage producers to expand their production, while ensuring that those countries most in need of vaccines receive them at an affordable price, and;
- facilitate the use of compulsory licensing within the WTO’s existing Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The TRIPS Agreement already provides this flexibility, which is a legitimate tool during the pandemic that can be used swiftly where needed
The first element aims to limit the use of export restrictions and keep supply chains open. Vaccine-producing countries should be ready to export a fair share of their domestic production. Supply chains are highly interconnected and should not be disrupted. In addition, the EU considers that supplies to the COVAX Facility should never be restricted, and no measures should limit trade in inputs necessary for the production of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.
The second element calls on governments to strongly encourage and support vaccine manufacturers and developers to expand production and ensure the affordable supply of vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. Such actions could include licensing agreements, the sharing of expertise, tiered pricing including non-profit sales to low-income countries, contract manufacturing and new investments in manufacturing facilities in developing countries. The EU expects all vaccine producers and developers to make concrete pledges that increase supplies to vulnerable developing countries. In this regard, the EU welcomes the commitment of companies such as BioNTech and Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna, which have already committed to delivering 1.3 billion doses this year to low-income countries at no profit and to middle-income countries at lower cost.
The third element, on intellectual property, sets out that voluntary licences are the most effective instrument to facilitate the expansion of production and sharing of expertise. Where voluntary cooperation fails, compulsory licences, whereby a government grants a targeted licence allowing a willing producer to make a vaccine without the consent of a patent holder, are a legitimate tool in the context of a pandemic. The EU considers that all WTO members should be ready to:
- agree that the COVID-19 pandemic is an exceptional circumstance of national emergency, and that the requirement to negotiate with the rights’ holder may be legitimately waived where needed;
- support manufacturers that are ready to produce vaccines and/or treatments at affordable prices under a compulsory licence so that the level of remuneration paid by the manufacturer to the patent holder reflects such affordable prices;
- agree that the compulsory licence could cover any exports destined to countries that lack manufacturing capacity, including via the COVAX facility.
The EU is also tabling a dedicated communication on intellectual property to the WTO body in charge of implementing the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Council). Here, the EU provides more detail and clarity on each of the three points on intellectual property and links them with the specific provisions in the TRIPS Agreement. As regards the broad waiver proposed by a number of WTO members, the European Commission, while ready to discuss any option that helps end the pandemic as soon as possible, is not convinced that this would provide the best immediate response to reach the objective of the widest and timely distribution of COVID-19 vaccines that the world urgently needs. Today’s proposals aim at achieving that objective in a swift and effective manner.
EU Digital COVID Certificate: Parliament and Council reach agreement
The Commission welcomes today’s provisional political agreement between the European Parliament and the Council on the Regulation governing the EU Digital COVID Certificate. This means that the certificate (previously called the Digital Green Certificate) is well on track to be ready end of June, as planned. Today’s agreement has been reached in record time just two months after the Commission’s proposal. The negotiations on the certificate for the Commission have been led by Commissioner Didier Reynders in close cooperation with Vice-Presidents Vera Jourová and Margaritis Schinas and Commissioners Thierry Breton, Stella Kyriakides, and Ylva Johansson.
Welcoming this swift progress, President Ursula von der Leyen said:
“We are delivering on our commitment to have the EU Digital COVID Certificate up and running before the summer. European citizens are looking forward to travelling again, and today’s agreement means they will be able to do so safely very soon.
The EU Digital COVID Certificate is free of charge, secure and accessible to all. It will cover vaccination, test and recovery offering different options to the citizens. It fully respects citizens’ fundamental rights, including protection of personal data.
All EU citizens have a fundamental right to free movement in the EU. The EU Digital COVID Certificate, available in paper or digital format, will make it easier for Europeans to travel – whether to see their families and loved ones or to get some well-deserved rest.
We would like to thank the European Parliament and the Portuguese Presidency for their dedication, perseverance and immense work at record speed to find an agreement on the proposal we presented.
Work still remains. At EU level, the system will be ready in the next few days. It is now crucial that all Member States press ahead with the roll-out of their national systems to ensure that the system can be up and running as soon as possible. This is what EU citizens rightly expect.
Today’s agreement has demonstrated that with the commitment and cooperation of all, the EU Digital COVID Certificate will be available on time.”
The EU Digital COVID Certificate – key features
Following the agreement reached by the European Parliament and the Council, the EU Digital COVID Certificate:
- will cover vaccination, test and recovery;
- will be available in a digital and paper-based format, depending on the choice of the recipients, and contain a digitally signed QR code;
- will be free of charge, be obtained easily and also available to persons vaccinated before the EU Digital COVID Certificate Regulation has entered into force;
- may also be used by Member States for national purposes, if this is provided for in national law.
- Member States shall refrain from imposing additional travel restrictions on the holders of an EU Digital COVID Certificate, unless they are necessary and proportionate to safeguard public health.
- The Commission will also mobilise €100 million to support Member States in providing affordable tests.
The political agreement will now have to be formally adopted by the European Parliament and the Council. The Regulation will enter into force on 1 July, with a phasing-in period of six weeks for the issuance of certificates for those Member States that need additional time.
In parallel, the Commission will continue to support the Member States in finalising their national solutions for the issuance and verification of EU Digital COVID Certificate, and to provide technical and financial support to Member States to on-board the gateway.
On 17 March 2021, the European Commission presented a proposal to create an EU COVID certificate to facilitate the safe free movement of citizens within the EU during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the Commission’s request, the Parliament voted in favour of the activation of the urgent procedure for the two proposals on 25 March. The Council adopted its negotiating position on 14 April, and the Parliament did so on 29 April. On 20 May co-legislators reached provisional agreement on this file.
In parallel to the legislative process, important progress was already made on the technical side. The EU Gateway, which allows to verify certificates across borders, is ready and will go live as of June. Successful pilot tests took place with 17 Member States and Iceland during the last two weeks, further five Member States will test next week.
The Commission also provide open source reference software to support Member States to develop their national solution to issue certificates, to scan and check the QR codes, and a reference wallet for storage.
Previously, on 21 April, technical specification guidelines were adopted by Member States representatives in the eHealth Network, a voluntary network connecting national authorities responsible for eHealth. They are building on the close work of the Commission with the Member States, having resulted in first guidelines adopted in January and updated on 12 March, and a trust framework outline agreed on 12 March 2021. In addition, a common design template was developed in the eHealth network.
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