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COVID-19

Could all passenger traffic to Europe from non-EU countries be halted over Covid variants?

EU leaders will hold talks on Thursday to discuss ways to limit the spread of new Covid-19 variants throughout Europe. One proposal that will be considered is a complete ban on passenger traffic between non-EU countries - including the UK - and the EU for limited periods.

Could all passenger traffic to Europe from non-EU countries be halted over Covid variants?
Eurostar passengers head to France from the UK but could passenger traffic be halted in future? AFP

Under a proposal put forward by Germany, the EU would be allowed to halt passenger traffic from “third-countries” where the virus variants are prevalent in order to protect public health.

If adopted that would mean all passenger services between non-EU countries, including the UK which is struggling to deal with a spike in infections blamed on a more contagious variant, and the EU could be suspended for a “limited time”.

The proposal states: “Where member states consider this necessary to protect public health, they are free to impose temporary bans on entry and on transporting passengers entering from [non-EU] countries with virus variant areas.”

Travel is already heavily restricted between the UK and the EU, partly because of the ongoing lockdown in the UK but mainly because the EU has barred non-essential travel from non-EU countries since March 2020.

Individual countries like France have also imposed strict rules for travellers from non-EU countries such as the UK including mandatory negative test and quarantine for all arrivals.

Germany itself has imposed similar measures.

But the German proposal wants to limit the exemptions for “essential travel” which have been in place since the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic. 

These exemptions have allowed travel for EU citizens or residents returning home but also covered groups such as delivery drivers, diplomats, cross-border workers and those travelling for “imperative family reasons”.

In what would be a controversial move, Germany is proposing that any ban on passenger traffic could also cover EU citizens and those who have residency in the country, which would prevent them from travelling home.

 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel signalled she was seeking a tightening of border controls earlier this week when she announced an extension and tightening of domestic Covid-19 restrictions.

If countries didn't act then Germany would go it alone, she warned.

“If countries should decide to take different paths… you have to be ready to say then, we'll have to reintroduce border controls. We don't want that, we want to find an agreement with our partners, but we can't have that (infections) just coming because other countries are taking another path,” she said.

France, too, has been keen to find a Europe-wide solution on travel restrictions. However individual EU countries are free to make their own decisions on border issues, so could opt out of the measures and decide on their own.

France banned all passenger and goods traffic from the UK just before Christmas over concerns raised about the rapid spread of the new variant.

The German proposal will be discussed at the EU council meeting on Thursday which will be held by video-conference.

“Only if member states take joint and coordinated action, can the virus be contained effectively,” said the German proposal.

“For this reason we see an urgent need to act in order to prevent or at least slow down the spread of worrying virus variants to and within the EU area plus Switzerland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland.”

The UK-based Times newspaper, which reported the story, believes it will be adopted in some form.

“The move has the backing of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and is almost certain to be agreed,” the paper says.

 

Member comments

  1. If adopted, would freight drivers be given a pass (subject to a negative Covid test) again? They are about the only people moving back and forth from the UK at the moment so are essentially the leaking faucet of virus transmission from the UK.

  2. When it says “Hold talks on Thursday” and the article was written on a Thursday, it makes it hard to know when the talks will be held. Can someone confirm a calendar date for the talks (in case I know of someone that needs to change their return ticket home).

  3. Published on this page at midday so talks can still be today (& many of France’s anouncements have been on Thursday evenings).

  4. If only all intl travel has been stopped in Dec 2019. If the WHO had told us what Taiwan tried to tell them but were ignored. Maybe all this could have been avoided. Meaning no ferries no trains crossing countries no cruises no air travel

  5. In my opinion, too many people have been traveling to see family and friends. Many of these trips are simply not essential – but folks say that they are doing it for their mental health.

  6. can anyone tell me if there is a ban on EU citizens travelling to Italy. I am an Irish citizen in London and Alitalia will not let me board flights. Who do I appeal to? I am trying to reunite with my partner in Roma but I do not have proof of residency.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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