In light of the rapid spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus, Merkel said it was problematic to have a patchwork of regulations.
“I regret that we haven’t managed yet to have completely uniform action among the member states on travel guidelines – that is coming back to haunt us,” she told reporters on Tuesday after a meeting with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, and ahead of this week’s EU summit.
Merkel cited the example of Portugal, where the government this month was forced to slow the process of post-lockdown reopening in Lisbon and three other municipalities after a hike in new Covid-19 cases.
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“That perhaps could have been avoided which is why we need to work harder,” she said.
“We have made some good progress in recent months but aren’t where I’d like the European Union to be.”
Although the EU recommends general travel guidelines, each country decides on how it controls its borders.
There have been lots of differences on travel rules throughout the pandemic. At the moment, one of the most striking differences is how countries are treating travellers from the UK.
Countries including Germany and Austria, for example, put in tough travel and quarantine restrictions for people coming from the UK in late May amid concerns about Delta.
Spain on the other hand still has no restrictions in place for British tourists.
Von der Leyen acknowledged she was “worried” about the spread of the Delta variant, saying it was “only a matter of time” before it became dominant in Europe.
But von der Leyen, who had faced sharp criticism early on for a sluggish vaccine rollout in the bloc, said she was pleased that the jabs approved in the EU appeared to be effective against the variant.
“It’s important to keep vaccinating as quickly as possible – it’s a race against time with this Delta variant.”
She also hailed the introduction of a bloc-wide Covid-19 pass agreed at an EU summit in May.
The EU’s Covid certificate, to be officially launched July 1st, will show the bearer’s vaccination status, or whether they have immunity from a Covid infection they have recovered from, or the result of a Covid test.
Coupled with a separate plan to let in fully vaccinated travellers from countries outside the EU, Europe believes its vital tourist industry could this summer claw back some of the losses racked up since the start of the pandemic.