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Europeans urged not to travel as EU Commission proposes ‘dark red zones’ for Covid hot spots

The European Commission has proposed creating new "dark red zones" which would be subject to tight travel restrictions whilst Europeans have been "strongly discouraged" from all but essential travel within the EU as Covid-19 infections rise.

Europeans urged not to travel as EU Commission proposes 'dark red zones' for Covid hot spots
Internal EU border controls were reintroduced during the first wave of the pandemic. AFP

Speaking after an EU council video conference on Thursday, Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen insisted that internal borders must remain open for the single market to function but that members of the public should avoid travel.

“In view of the very serious health situation all non-essential travel should be strongly discouraged within a country and across borders,” she said.

“At the same time it's important to keep the single market functioning. Goods and essential workers must continue to cross borders smoothly. This is of upmost importance.”

The question of imposing restrictions on internal borders to fight the spread of more contagious Covid-19 variants has risen to the fore in recent days, pushed mainly by concerns raised by Germany and France.

Germany had proposed temporary and limited bans on all passenger traffic from non-EU countries if necessary, whilst France on Thursday night announced that anyone entering France by air or sea from within the EU must present a negative Covid-19 test. Hauliers and cross-border workers are exempt.

Border restrictions are a matter for individual member states but France and Germany plus EU officials in Brussels have been pushing for a coordinated response after the travel chaos that occurred during the first wave of the pandemic in spring 2020.

In March as infections soared around Europe several member states panicked and closed off national borders unilaterally, triggering travel chaos.

That decision came to be seen as disastrous, disrupting the already stumbling European economy, and the leaders say they will work hard to find ways to thwart new variants of the virus, while keeping factories and businesses running.

Von der Leyen put forward the proposal of classifying parts of the EU as “dark red zones” where the virus is circulating at a very high level.

“People travelling from dark red zones could be required to do a test before departure, as well as to undergo quarantine after arrival. This is within the European Union,” she said.

The Commission is also proposing additional safety measures for the EU's external borders.

Travel into the EU is heavily restricted but essential trips are allowed. The Commission proposes that all travellers should undergo testing before departure – in reality many EU countries already require this.

The EU Commission can only make recommendations and it is up to the EU council whether to approve them. But given borders are governed at a national level many countries within the EU and Schengen area have already taken action to impose these kind of measures.

Tighter measures needed

The EU disease agency ECDC on Thursday urged countries to prepare more stringent measures and speed up vaccine campaigns in the coming weeks because of the risks of more infectious variants of the novel coronavirus.

The European Centre Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said in a new report that countries in the EU and European Economic Area “should expect increased numbers of Covid-19 cases due to the gradual spread and possible dominance of the variants with increased transmissibility.”

“The key message is to prepare for a rapid escalation of the stringency of response measures in the coming weeks to safeguard healthcare capacity and to accelerate vaccination campaigns,” the agency said.

According to the agency the “rate and scale” of the spread would depend on the level of prevention measures and adherence to those measures.

The ECDC said that some 16,800 cases of a new more infectious variant of the novel coronavirus had been identified in the UK, where it was first discovered, and some 2,000 cases in 60 countries around the world as of Tuesday, of which 1,300 cases were in 23 countries in the EU and EEA area.

Around 570 cases of another variant, also more infectious, first discovered in South Africa have been detected in 23 countries, with 27 cases in 10 EU/EEA countries, in addition to the 349 cases confirmed in South Africa as of January 13th.

The ECDC also urged members to monitor changes in transmission rates or infection severity to identify and assess the circulation and impact of variants, and also to prepare laboratories for increased testing.
  

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TRAVEL NEWS

EU delays passport scan system and €7 travel fee until 2023

Two major changes that were due to come into force in 2022 for travellers entering the EU - an enhanced passport scanning system and the introduction of a €7 visa for tourists - have been delayed for a year.

EU delays passport scan system and €7 travel fee until 2023

Although both the EES and ETIAS schemes are still due to be introduced in the European Commission has pushed back the start dates for both until 2023.

It comes amid a chaotic summer for travel in Europe, with airports struggling with staff shortages and strikes while some crossings from the UK to France have been hit by long delays as extra post-Brexit checks are performed during the peak holiday season. 

The two separate changes to travel in the EU and Schengen zone were originally due to come into effect in 2020, but were delayed because of the pandemic. Now the EES system is expected to come into effect in May 2023, while ETIAS will come into effect in November 2023. 

The EES – Entry and Exit System – is essentially enhanced passport scanning at the EU’s borders and means passports will not only be checked for ID and security, but also for entry and exit dates, in effect tightening up enforcement of the ’90 day rule’ that limits the amount of time non-EU citizens can spend in the Bloc without having a visa.

It will not affect non-EU citizens who live in an EU country with a residency permit or visa.

There have been concerns that the longer checks will make transiting the EU’s external borders slower, a particular problem at the UK port of Dover, where the infrastructure is already struggling to cope with enhanced post-Brexit checks of people travelling to France.

You can read a full explanation of EES, what it is and who is affects HERE.

The ETIAS system will apply to all non-EU visitors to an EU country – eg tourists, second-home owners, those making family visits and people doing short-term work.

It will involve visitors registering in advance for a visa and paying a €7 fee. The visa will be valid for three years and can be used for multiple trips – essentially the system is very similar to the ESTA visa required for visitors to the USA. 

Residents of an EU country who have a residency card or visa will not need one.

You can read the full details on ETIAS, how it works and who it affects HERE.

Both systems will apply only to people who do not have citizenship of an EU country – for example Brits, Americans, Australians and Canadians – and will be used only at external EU/Schengen borders, so it won’t be required when travelling between France and Germany, for example. 

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