EU members to adopt travel guidelines as Coronavirus spreads
By Matina Stevis-Gridneff
European Union countries are expected to adopt guidelines next week aimed at coordinating their varying coronavirus travel measures, according to EU officials and diplomats involved in the talks. But the effort will stop well short of a harmonization of rules, as countries try to keep control over how they tackle a resurgence of the disease.
The guidelines are intended to make travel restrictions, such as quarantine and testing rules, smoother and more predictable within the bloc. It would be a first step at restoring one of the union’s main tenets: the free movement of people within its territory.
Representatives from the EU’s 27 members, together with officials from the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, have discussed for weeks how to use shared criteria in judging regional responses to the coronavirus.
Central to that would be the adoption of a single map using colors to denote the scale of outbreaks around the bloc, green at the low end of risk, orange in the middle and red at the high end. Other measures include unifying how quarantines and testing are done to smooth travel between EU countries and ensuring ample warning when national travel advisories are about to change to ensure travelers don’t get stranded.
Travel in the bloc, the world’s most integrated group of countries, has become increasingly difficult and complicated amid the pandemic. Each country has its own assessment of the situation in other states, its own rules on travel measures, and ever-changing testing and quarantine demands.
“Citizens have been severely affected by the travel restrictions imposed throughout the European Union,” Didier Reynders, the European commissioner for justice, said in a statement. “I now urge all EU ministers to agree quickly on a coordinated and simple approach including: an EU-wide map, common criteria and clear information on a weekly basis.”
Under the guidelines expected to be approved Tuesday by EU ministers, members will adopt a regional map drafted by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, rather than produce 27 individual ones.
Effectively, that will matter only when it comes to green zones, or regions within EU countries that pose low risk to travelers, officials said. National authorities will still to be free to make their own determinations on orange and red zones, based on advice from their own experts, the EU officials said.
The text, which was reviewed by The New York Times, lays out criteria on how a region should be color-coded, focusing on thresholds for new cases per 100,000 people, as well as positive test results as a percentage of total tests. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control gathers much of this data from national agencies.
And while EU countries will agree to give 48 hours warning before changing travel restrictions in response to worsening COVID-19 conditions — for example, imposing additional quarantine or testing requirements — they will not harmonize requirements for travelers.
For example, a traveler from Belgium, which is considered a red zone across the bloc because of a very high level of infections, faces different restrictions if visiting Germany than if visiting Greece. That will continue to be the case after the proposal is adopted.
The bloc will remain largely closed to nonessential travelers from the United States as well as most of the rest of the world.
Officials said that the short list of nations from which travelers are allowed to enter the EU, which now includes Canada and New Zealand, could be revisited this month. But they added that it was virtually certain that travelers from the U.S. would not be added at this stage because of how poorly the country is containing the pandemic.
But new cases have also been surging across the EU, and few regions in the bloc will actually be labeled green under the new set of criteria.
In France, the number of daily cases rose to over 18,000 this week, triggering severe restrictions on public gatherings in a handful of regions.
As cases in Belgium surge, bars and cafes have been shuttered in Brussels.
And in Spain, which currently has one of the worst new coronavirus caseloads in the EU, the government is considering putting the Madrid region under a state of emergency in response to a spike in cases.
EU institutions have found it difficult to persuade individual governments to take a common approach, leading to a cacophony of measures that are harming the flow of people for work or family purposes, and compounding severe losses in the tourism and transportation sectors.