21st Sep 2021

Commission proposes 'non-essential travel' EU entry ban

  • Ursula von der Leyen (l) announced the temporary ban after speaking to G7 leaders (Photo: European Union)

The vast majority of people intending to travel to the European Union may be denied entry for the next 30 days, following an unprecedented proposal by the European Commission to fight the coronavirus spread.

The plan announced Monday (16 March) by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen marks a new turning point in the global fight against Covid-19.

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"I propose to the heads of state and government to introduce temporary restrictions on non-essential travel to the European Union," she said.

Although it still needs to be agreed among member states, the proposal could see a renewable 30-day travel ban throughout the EU.

Von der Leyen said most EU states have already shown "strong support" for the plan, which will be discussed in further detail via a video conference on Tuesday among all 27 national governments.

Tourists from around the globe would most likely be affected.

It is not a blanket ban.

Long-term residents in the European Union, family members of European Union nationals, diplomats and people transporting goods are exempted.

Essential staff such as doctors, nurses, caseworkers, researchers and experts that help tackle the virus should also be allowed in the European Union, noted Von der Leyen.

"There are no restrictions for the UK citizens to travel to the continent," she said.

Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland would also need to apply the ban.

The announcement follows a phone conference held with the G7 states earlier in the day, who had all been informed of the move before Von der Leyen took it public.

US president Donald Trump had last week announced similar restrictions but without first telling anyone in Europe, widely seen as a snub.

Green Lanes

The latest development follows a string of internal border closures among a handful of member states within the passport-free Schengen zone.

The free movement of goods and people across member states is viewed as one of the key achievements of the European Union.

Such lockdowns are not only seen as threats for the Union itself but now may end up thwarting supplies to produce the medical equipment needed to stave off the pandemic.

"Protecting people's health should not block goods and essential staff from reaching patients, health systems, factories and shops," said Von der Leyen, over the weekend.

In guidelines, also published on Monday, the commission demanded EU states guarantee access for emergency service vehicles and freight carrying vital equipment.

It requested, for example, EU states set aside specific lanes for trucks, or so-called Green Lanes.

"We are an economy where just in time manufacturing is a key concept in terms of productivity," Eric Mamer, the European Commission's chief spokesperson, told reporters in Brussels.

Factories in Europe operate with relatively low level of stock and depend on rapid and easy delivery of components in order to operate, he added, noting there are now trucks lining up for kilometres among some EU border areas.

The proposal comes after Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Poland, Lithuania and Germany notified the European Commission of internal border controls given the growing outbreak caused by Covid-19.

Other EU states like Portugal, Italy and Spain have also imposed a lockdown and on Monday (16 March), the Greek government announced a two-week quarantine for all incoming visitors.

Critics say the extra barriers are meaningless given the virus is already present throughout every EU member state. Instead fears are mounting that supply bottlenecks may complicate efforts to manufacture things like much-needed ventilators.

"You need the components that are required for this equipment and supplies to be produced in order able to reach the factories where they are produced," said Mamer.

Germany, which closed its borders with France, Austria and Switzerland, said it will still allow through commercial goods.

Africa wary of European tourists spreading virus

Cases of European tourists bringing the virus to African states has roused fears of contagion, as some seek to avoid self-isolation, regardless of the pandemic caused by Covid-19.

Von der Leyen doubles up on vaccine-donation pledge

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen praised the EU's vaccination roll-out as a success and announced that the EUn will donate 200 million additional doses to low-income countries - doubling its current pledge.

EU medicines agency: booster shots not urgent

The European Medicines Agency said that there is no urgent need to administer booster shots to the general population, pointing out that the priority now should be to vaccinate the one-third of Europeans who are not fully vaccinated.

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