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With A New Digital Certificate, People Can Travel Within Europe Without Quarantining

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Beginning today, most people traveling between European countries can skip COVID testing in quarantine if they have the new EU COVID digital certificate. That's an official document that says the holder has been fully vaccinated. Implementing a uniform travel scheme across more than two dozen nations is not simple, as Esme Nicholson reports from Berlin.

ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: After multiple lockdowns and a difficult third wave, Europeans are keen to travel. One of them is the EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who recently showed off her new digital vaccine certificate.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

URSULA VON DER LEYEN: And here is mine. I am planning now to start my tour through 27 member states, and I'm very curious to test and to see how this certificate will work.

NICHOLSON: And she's not the only one who's curious.

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NICHOLSON: At Berlin's airport, Jan Laskowski is just as eager to know how and, above all, if the EU's new digital proof of vaccination works. The 26-year-old web developer and his girlfriend are waiting to check in for a flight to the Greek island of Corfu. They were supposed to fly yesterday but were refused boarding because they'd failed to register their trip with Greek authorities. Laskowski says his airline emailed him about this requirement just hours before he was due to fly.

JAN LASKOWSKI: Even on the government page, when you see - what do you need? Oh, you just need a test, like a PCR test. And then I get, you know, this email. I'm waking up in the morning, you know, and like, nice; goodbye, flight.

NICHOLSON: Laskowski clutches his smartphone, which has an image of his EU travel certificate. It proves that a passenger is either fully vaccinated, has tested negative or has recovered from COVID-19. Valid from today, it's supposed to do away with additional paperwork, but Laskowski says he still had to register with Greek authorities.

LASKOWSKI: The airlines don't inform you. But, I mean, now I learned and know that I have to inform myself always.

NICHOLSON: But Europe's major aviation associations actually share Laskowski's grievance and are warning of major operational issues if member states don't iron out inconsistencies in how they approve travel. Fifty-two-year-old Beate Borg says she and her husband have come prepared for such teething problems.

BEATE BORG: (Through interpreter) We thought we'd play it safe, so we brought our paper vaccine document just in case the digital one doesn't work.

NICHOLSON: The Borgs are flying to Reykjavik in Iceland, one of the non-EU members signed up to Europe's digital certificate scheme. Borg says she's a little nervous because they've taken a gamble on the additional coronavirus test requirement.

BORG: (Through interpreter) Being fully vaccinated, we no longer have to provide a negative test result for travel to Iceland. That's a new rule from this morning, so we don't have test results on us. Fingers crossed we've understood it right and that Iceland lets us in.

NICHOLSON: Borg says the only way to travel even with the new digital vaccine certificate is to keep checking the travel regulations of every single government, as they plan to do before they head home.

BORG: (Through interpreter) Right now we don't have to test or quarantine to reenter Germany from Iceland, unlike if you're coming from other European countries, such as Portugal. But who knows how many times the government could change its travel policies in the two weeks we're away?

NICHOLSON: While the digital certificate is supposed to eliminate the need for additional testing and quarantine for double-vaxed (ph) travelers, rising case numbers in Europe and the increasing dominance of the Delta variant could compromise the project. Member states are entitled to reimpose restrictions if the situation warrants it. Beate Borg says it's frustrating, but she'd rather be safe than sorry.

For NPR News, I'm Esme Nicholson in Berlin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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