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E.U. recommends new restrictions for unvaccinated residents traveling within Europe

Police officers check the vaccination status of visitors during a patrol on a Christmas market in Vienna. (Lisa Leutner/AP)

BRUSSELS — The European Commission recommended Thursday that member countries apply more travel restrictions to people who are unvaccinated in the 27-nation bloc’s latest attempt to curb the recent surge of cases across the continent.

The commission’s health authorizing agency also approved vaccines for children as young as 5 — a milestone that could help Europe improve vaccination rates at a time when cases and deaths from the virus are up. The commission travel recommendations did not apply to unvaccinated children under the age of 6.

The ability to easily travel between countries in the European Union is a core value of the bloc and the commission’s latest recommendations attempt to strike the balance between upholding that freedom and implementing restrictions that could slow the spread of the virus.

Specter of new restrictions rises in Europe with coronavirus cases spiking once again

People who have a European Union covid certificate — which means they are fully vaccinated, have proof that they recovered from the virus or recently tested negative — should not have any travel restrictions, according to the recommendations. Everyone else should quarantine or be tested when they travel to a country in the bloc.

The commission also said travelers coming into the bloc should not be considered vaccinated if they received their doses more than nine months ago and have not yet received a booster.

Countries do not have to adopt the commission’s recommendations.

“The travel rules need to take into account this volatile situation,” Didier Reynders, European commissioner of justice, said at a news conference announcing the recommendations.

Across Europe, countries are applying lockdowns and restrictions to contain the latest wave of the pandemic — and hopefully bring case numbers down ahead of the Christmas holidays. Reported deaths in Europe reached nearly 4,200 a day last week — twice the number since the end of September, according to the World Health Organization, which counts 53 countries as part of Europe.

The Netherlands ordered restaurants and bars to close at 8 p.m., while Slovakia implemented a two-week lockdown on Wednesday, in which people can only leave home for work, grocery shopping or to get a vaccine. Austria also is under a lockdown that could last for 20 days.

“We need to convince more people to get vaccinated,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said in a taped message to the public that also encouraged people to get a booster shot six months after their initial vaccination. “A quarter of E.U. adults are still not fully vaccinated. If you are unvaccinated you are more at risk of having severe covid symptoms. Vaccinations protect you and the others.”

While the European Commission issued its recommendations Thursday, the French government announced that booster shots would be available for all adults beginning Saturday. Boosters are already available to residents 65 and older.

France’s health minister said that vaccination certificates of people who do not get the booster will start expiring in mid-January. Earlier this month, President Emmanuel Macron introduced a similar rule for those over 65, with a deadline in mid-December.

Proof of vaccination can help people enter restaurants, bars and other entertainment venues in France. At a news conference on Thursday, Health Minister Olivier Véran appealed to the French to respect distancing measures and mask mandates.

“We have to pull ourselves together,” he said. “These small daily constraints are the keys to our freedom.”

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Coronavirus: What you need to know

The latest: The CDC has loosened many of its recommendations for battling the coronavirus, a strategic shift that puts more of the onus on individuals, rather than on schools, businesses and other institutions, to limit viral spread.

Variants: BA.5 is the most recent omicron subvariant, and it’s quickly become the dominant strain in the U.S. Here’s what to know about it, and why vaccines may only offer limited protection.

Vaccines: Vaccines: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone age 12 and older get an updated coronavirus booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant circulating now. You’re eligible for the shot if it has been at least two months since your initial vaccine or your last booster. An initial vaccine series for children under 5, meanwhile, became available this summer. Here’s what to know about how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections and booster history.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. The omicron variant is behind much of the recent spread.

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