EU Commission Takes Another Step Towards Coordinated COVID-19 Travel Restrictions

The European Union Commission has advanced its work towards coordinated and clearly communicated measures regarding travel restrictions taken due to the Coronavirus pandemic, between the Member States.

Through the approval of a proposal for a Council Recommendation on a coordinated approach to the restriction of free movement, the Commission intends to unify the Member States and the Schengen Area associated countries in the fight against the pandemic.

Commenting the proposal, the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson said that since March, the Commission has developed and delivered a solid foundation of internal and external border control recommendations for the Member States to follow.

Today’s measures build on this track record so that we can fully benefit from our Schengen area. That is why we want a clear ‘green, orange, red’ system and not a kaleidoscope of individual measures,” Commissioner Johansson said regarding the proposal which sets out four key areas where the Member States should work closer together.

In addition to the common criteria and thresholds for the Member States when deciding whether to introduce travel restrictions, the Commission wants to create a common mapping of the infection levels in the member states according to the colours on which they will agree.

It also intends to establish a common framework for measures applied to travellers from high-risk areas and insists that clear and timely information should be made available to the public about any restrictions.

Common Evaluation Criteria and Colour Code System

The first key area in which more collaboration is required by the member states, according to the Commission, is the criteria on the threshold of infection levels for the introduction of restrictions.

The Commission proposes that the Member States should take into account the following when evaluating a particular country’s epidemiological situation:

  • Number of new Coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in the last two weeks prior to the evaluation
  • Share of positive tests from the total of tests carried out in a seven-day period
  • Number of COVID-19 tests carried out per every 100 000 people during a seven-day period

According to the proposal, countries with a weekly testing rate over 250 per 100,000 people should not restrict the free movement of people travelling from another Member State in which the total number of newly COVID-19 is equal or less than 50 per 100,000 people during a 14-day period, or countries with a percentage of positive tests less than 3 per cent.

As per the colour system, to which Commissioner Johansson refers above and a similar to which countries as Norway already apply, the Commission recommends that the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control publishes a map of EU and EEA countries, with a common colour code according to each country’s epidemiological situation.

If this proposal becomes effective, then the countries where the number of detected Coronavirus cases is under 25 throughout two weeks, and the percentage of positive tests is less than 3 per cent will be marked as green, or safe to travel to.

Orange will stand for countries where the total number of new cases is less than 50 during a 14-day period, yet the percentage of positive tests from all COVID-19 tests is 3 per cent or more. In orange will also be marked the areas where the total number of newly notified COVID-19 cases is between 25 and 150, but the percentage of positive tests from all COVID-19 tests is less than 3 per cent.

The remaining countries that do not fit in the other two categories will be marked in red, whereas those with insufficient information available to assess the criteria proposed by the Commission or the number of COVID-19 tests carried out per 100 000 people is less than 250 will be marked with grey.

Member States Shouldn’t Turn Back Travellers from High-Risk Areas

The Commission also proposes that the Member States should no longer turn back travellers from high-risk zones. Instead, it advises that these travellers should either undergo quarantine or Coronavirus testing upon arrival.

As per travellers coming from areas classified as ‘orange’, the Member States are advised to recommend to these persons to undergo at least a COVID-19 test prior to departure or upon arrival.

Member States could require persons arriving from an area classified as ‘red’, ‘orange’ or ‘grey’ to submit passenger locator forms, notably those arriving by aeroplane, in accordance with data protection requirements. Travellers with an essential function or need – such as workers exercising critical occupations, frontier and posted workers, students or journalists performing their duties – should not be required to undergo quarantine,” explains a press release of the Commission on the proposal.

Finally, the Commission proposes that the Member states should notify on the intended changes at least a week before they become effective, and also provide information to the reOPEN EU web platform,

Currently, the Member States apply similar approaches to the evaluation of infection levels in each EU and EEA country, but different enough for them to have different lists of high-risk areas, which means a traveller from the same country in some countries may be quarantined, in others, he or she may be asked to undergo testing, and in others border guards may even restrict entry to him/her.

Hungary, on the other hand, has completely closed its borders to the majority of EU countries, permitting entry only for travellers coming from Visegrad Countries.