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24th Feb 2024

Brussels pushes to fix EU travel rules ahead of summer

  • Member states would be allowed to re-introduce travel restrictions if the situation worsens or there are many new variant cases (Photo: Curt Smith)

The European Commission on Monday (31 May) urged member states to gradually lift travel restrictions to kickstart the summer holiday season - in a bid to end the current patchwork of travelling measures across the bloc.

"As vaccination is progressing with increasing speed, we can be confident that safe free movement without restrictions can gradually resume again," said EU commissioner for health Stella Kyriakides.

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"[But] we need coordinated and predictable approaches for our citizens that would offer clarity," she also said, calling on EU capitals to avoid "inconsistent requirements" for travelling across the bloc.

After EU negotiators reached an agreement on the EU Covid-19 certificate last month, the EU Commission on Monday called on member states to make use of national laws to start issuing these certificates before it comes obligatory on 1 July.

These certificates will provide proof of Covid-19 vaccination, recovery, or test results (both PCR test or rapid antigen test), with a QR code to ensure security. They will be free and available in digital form or on paper.

Brussels is expected to launch on Tuesday (1 June) a system that allows member states to validate other member states' certificates, dubbed as the "EU gateway".

"Given that no personal data is exchanged via the EU gateway, member states could already make use of its functionality," the EU executive said in a statement.

Building on the 'traffic-light' colour-coding system of risk regions and Covid-19 certificates, the EU executive also updated the common approach to travel measures within the EU.

Under this new proposal, Brussels said that testing or quarantine restrictions should not apply to people who have been fully vaccinated 14 days before travel or those who have recovered from the illness. For this case, the exemption will last during the first 180 days after a positive PCR test.

Similarly, travellers with a negative test (either a PCR or a rapid antigen test) should also be exempted from quarantine requirements. A PCR test would be valid 72 hours before departure, and antigen test for 48 hours before travelling.

However, Brussels also put forward an "emergency brake" that would allow member states to re-introduce travel restrictions if the epidemiological situation worsens rapidly or there are many cases reported due to variants.

The EU Commission proposal also establishes that minors do not need to undergo quarantine when travelling with parents who are exempt from such measures, for example, due to vaccination. But all those aged six or older might be subjected to testing.

No restrictions from 'Green' areas

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) regularly prepares maps in which EU regions are divided into green, orange, red, and dark red zones, according to Covid-19 infection rates.

The EU Commission said on Monday that travelling from "dark red areas", where there are more than 150 cases per 100,000 people over a two-week period, should be "strongly discouraged".

But no restrictions should apply to those travelling from green areas, with fewer than 25 cases per 100,000 people over 15 days.

However, only Malta is currently green.

Given that vaccination campaigns are reducing infection rates across the bloc, the commission has proposed to adopt the thresholds of the colour-coding map of affected areas.

For the areas marked in orange, the proposal is to increase the threshold rate from 50 to 75 cases per 100,000 people over two weeks. As a result, the region of Schleswig-Holstein in Germany and Murcia in Spain will change from red to orange.

Similarly, for the red areas, the proposal is to adjust the threshold from the current 50-150 to the new 75-150.

Last month, the EU Commission called on member states to lift restrictions for all non-EU tourists who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 - although tests can still apply.

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