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2nd Oct 2022

EU adds new 'dark red' zone to travel-restrictions map

  • Belgium has now imposed an international travel ban on non-essential journeys from Wednesday (27 January) to 1 March (Photo: Steven Thompson)

The European Commission has proposed additional measures to limit non-essential travel within and to the EU - amid fears over more transmissible mutations triggering a new surge in cases across the bloc.

"There is currently a very high number of new infections across many member states, [so] there is an urgent need to reduce the risk of travel-related infections to lessen the burden on overstretched health care systems," EU commissioner for justice, Didier Reynders said on Monday (25 January).

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"Border closures will not help, common measures will," he added.

The EU executive has suggested tightening the restrictions in regions with a very high incidence of cases (that is, more than 500 infections per 100,000 inhabitants), while also strongly discouraging all non-essential travel across the EU.

The new recommendation, which member states are expected to approve in the next few weeks, would redefine the infection maps that the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) prepares weekly to coordinate coronavirus travel restrictions.

From now on, EU regions will be divided into green, orange, red, and new 'dark red' zones, according to Covid-19 infection rates.

According to the commission, the new dark red category has been introduced to indicate "areas where the virus is circulating at very high levels, including because of more infectious variants of concern".

Under the new proposal, those travelling from a dark red zone would be required to take a test before arrival and to undergo quarantine.

Meanwhile, member states have set up their own strategies for those areas currently considered orange and red.

Only travellers from green areas would not face travel restrictions.

Certain groups, such as cross-border workers, transport staff, or people living in border regions, should be exempt from some restrictions, the commission added.

As of Monday, Portugal, Spain, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, Sweden, Slovakia, Estonia, Cyprus, the Netherlands and Malta have all reported more than 500 infections per 100,000 inhabitants during the last two weeks.

The surge in the number of infections across Europe triggered Belgium to ban international non-essential travel from Wednesday (27 January) to 1 March.

This goes beyond the recommendations of the EU in terms of health restrictions and, thus, requires "a very clear explanation of the proportional, necessary and non-discriminatory nature" of the decision, Reynders said.

Failures on passenger forms?

Meanwhile, the commission has also recommended stricter measures on international travellers entering the EU from third countries.

All member states should require mandatory testing (at most 72 hours) before departure - which can be combined with a requirement of self-isolation, quarantine, or additional testing, as needed.

For trips originating from countries where the new variants of Covid-19 have been detected, the commission recommends member states apply all such precautions - including mandatory testing before departure, compulsory testing upon or after arrival, and quarantine for a period of up to 14 days.

One of the dangerous Covid variants, which was first detected in the UK in September 2020, has now been found in at least 60 countries worldwide.

Additionally, international travellers would be required to complete and submit a "passenger-locator" form, used by member states for contact tracing.

But member states have failed so far to create a working interoperable system for the EU itself, despite long-standing calls from the industry for a common EU approach on passenger-locator and health-declaration forms.

Finally, the commission has tightened the criteria used by member states to decide whether to ban travel from a specific non-EU country.

Until now, a ban on non-essential travel to the EU applied to many third countries - although not to Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and China.

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The European Commission has expressed surprise over the Belgian government's decision to extend the ban on non-essential travel, stressing that "all options" are on the table to ensure free movement across the bloc.

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The EU Commission also raised concerns about the proportionality of Belgium's ban on non-essential travel, for people wishing to leave the country.

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