EU member states reached a deal Thursday paving the way for a Covid-19 certificate to open up travel in Europe, just as the operators of the iconic Eiffel Tower in Paris announced a July reopening.
The deal will allow anybody living in the EU's 27 countries to secure a digital health pass by the end of June that displays their vaccination status, results of Covid-19 tests or recovery from a coronavirus infection.
"This is an important step towards restarting EU free movement as safely as possible, while providing clarity and certainty for our citizens," said EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides.
The certificate is seen as a key tool to save the European summer vacations and, as if to celebrate the news, the operators of the Eiffel Tower, one of the biggest tourist attractions on the continent, announced it will reopen on July 16 after several months of closure due to the pandemic.
Visitor numbers will be limited to 10,000 a day to meet social distancing requirements, fewer than half of their pre-Covid levels, operator Sete told AFP.
However a World Health Organization director warned Thursday that the progress against the coronavirus pandemic remains "fragile" and that international travel should still be avoided.
"Right now, in the face of a continued threat and new uncertainty, we need to continue to exercise caution, and rethink or avoid international travel," WHO's European director Hans Kluge said, adding that "pockets of increasing transmission" on the continent could quickly spread.
- Black fungus -
The so-called Indian variant, which might be more transmissible, has now been identified in at least 26 of the 53 countries in the WHO Europe region, Kluge said.
But he added that vaccines authorised by the WHO are effective against the new strain.
India faced a new associated threat on Thursday as states across the country ordered emergency measures to counter a surge in the rare deadly "black fungus" infection among coronavirus sufferers.
Two new states declared epidemics of Mucormycosis while New Delhi and other major cities have opened special wards to treat thousands of cases of the infection.
India normally deals with less than 20 cases a year, but the infection has become a new threat from the coronavirus wave that has killed 120,000 people in six weeks.
In neighbouring Bangladesh, authorities imposed a lockdown in five Rohingya refugee camps in the country's southeast after a spike in coronavirus cases in recent days, officials said.
Bangladesh authorities have set up 34 camps in the southeastern district of Cox's Bazar for nearly 900,000 Rohingya refugees, who fled persecution and violence in Myanmar.
- Mounting criticism in Japan -
In Japan criticism is mounting over the slow start to coronavirus inoculations with just two months until it hosts the Olympic Games.
A Japanese government panel in Tokyo on Thursday recommended approval of Moderna and AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccines,
The Pfizer-BioNTech formula is currently the only vaccine licensed for use in Japan, where less than two percent of the population of 125 million are so far fully vaccinated.
Japanese public sentiment is against the Games, with polls showing a majority want the event delayed further or cancelled.
The global pandemic has killed over 3.4 million people worldwide since the virus first emerged in late 2019, according to an AFP compilation of official data.
The United States is the worst-affected country with 587,874 deaths but in another sign of life beginning to return to mormal there, a spokesman for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said Thursday it will gradually shift back to having staff work in-person at its Washington headquarters.
"Like many others, after remote working for the past year, we will resume limited operations at our Washington, DC headquarters, with a phased return of staff to our buildings, beginning June 1," Gerry Rice told reporters.
- Pilot test -
The EU nod towards Covid travel certificates follows similar initiatives in other countries, including Israel with its "green pass", and Britain, which has told citizens that some international travel will be permitted with an app from the National Health Service.
The European Commission also promised to make at least 100 million euros ($122 million) available for the purchase of rapid tests.
France, Malta and the Netherlands are among the countries piloting the EU's pass.
The pass, while mostly designed to be accessed via a smartphone app, also has to be able to be authenticated in paper form. The technology was developed by German companies T-Systems and SAP.
The certificate is on the agenda of the summit of European heads of state and government scheduled for Monday and Tuesday in Brussels.
Thursday's agreement will then have to be formally approved by a full session of the European Parliament, whose plenary is scheduled for June 7-10 in Strasbourg.