In the wake of new corona travel restrictions in Europe, the EU is calling members to roll out common Covid testing rules and ditch blanket bans on high-risk European countries.
As Covid makes a comeback across the continent, strict border controls–even total travel bans–are returning.
Particularly with several Western and Southeastern European countries among the worst hit. Lower-risk Nordic and Central European nations are shutting themselves off again to tourism–in some cases entirely.
The piecemeal manner in which this is happening is leading to random and sudden shutdowns across the continent. Travelers are caught out, holidays ruined. Confusing and discriminatory new rules says the European Commission unfairly punish European travelers.
No Harmony In New Europe Covid Curbs
There is little harmony in the new bout of Covid curbs within the EU and Schengen countries. And in that, there is a big sense of déjà vu: back to the pre-June 15 days before many border controls were lifted.
For a start, some countries are currently using entirely different epidemiological yardsticks to decide when and to who they close their borders.
On Friday, the bloc’s executive body–the European Commission–adopted a proposal to harmonize travel curbs. It will now recommend it to member governments, who will implement it as they choose.
The plan calls for four major measures, and testing is high among them:
- Epidemiology: Countries should base new travel curbs on a common number of new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people in the past 14-days. Currently different countries have varying yardsticks: from 25 cases per 100,000 in Latvia, to 16/100,000 in Lithuania and 40/100,000 in Slovenia.
- Tests: Restrictions should also take into account the percentage of positive test results from total during a 7-day period. And the total number of tests carried out/100,000 people.
- Countries or “given areas” with a weekly testing rate over 250/100,000 people should not be blocked: if new cases total less than 50/100,000 in 14 days; or if positive tests are less than 3% of the total.
- Member states should provide the data on a weekly basis to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
Color-Code System, EU Map
- This is already being used in several countries, albeit in a different way. Some have red and green lists; others red, green and yellow–or orange. So the commission wants a “common color code” approach.
- Based on data from each country, the Commission wants the ECDC to publish a co-ordinated map of travel curbs in EU/Schengen countries. Updated weekly, this will make life much easier for travelers.
- The map should be colored green, orange, red and grey.
- GREEN For areas with under 25 cases/100,000 over 14 days, and less than 3% positive tests.
- ORANGE For under 50 cases/100,000 and with 3% and over + tests; OR between 25 and 150 cases/100,000, but less than 3% + tests.
- RED When cases exceed 50/100,000 during a 14-day period, and + test rate is 3% or more; OR when the case rate is 150/100,000 or over.
- GREY For areas where there is insufficient data to make an assessment OR when testing is below 250/100, 000 people.
Quarantine, Testing For High-Risk Travelers Not Blanket Bans
- All travelers from high-risk zones should not be refused entry says the EU, as seen in Hungary last week. Instead countries should prioritise quarantine and Covid-19 testing for red and grey zones.
- “Where justified”, EU and Schengen countries can require travelers from orange zones to undergo at least one Covid test before or upon arrival.
- Air travelers from red, orange or grey zones could submit passenger locator forms, “in accordance with data protection requirements”.
- “Essential” travelers from health personnel, diplomats and journalists to transport and seasonal workers should be exempt from quarantine. So too should military personnel, humanitarian aid workers and civil protection personnel, but also students and trainees. Those “travelling for imperative family or business reasons,” and passengers in transit, should skip quarantine.
Clear, Timely Information About New Curbs
- Instead of last-minute decisions and traveler panic, the EU wants members to give the public reasonable forewarning of new curbs “to free movement”. And on the lifting of such restrictions. At least a week ahead.
- The information can feed into the Re-open EU site, with a link to the ECDC’s weekly updated Covid travel map.
- The EU wants members to help limit “the social and economic impact of travel restrictions”, by keeping people informed in a “comprehensive and timely manner”.
Could this be a gradual way into countries taking a similar approach to non-Europeans and opening up borders to Americans and others? It may well be. That will be the subject of another story.
Further Reading: New Europe Travel Bans: Covid Red Lists, Here’s What To Know