European Commission proposes coordination on Covid-19-related travel restrictions

FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective face masks walk, as Schiphol Airport reduces its flights due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Amsterdam, Netherlands April 2, 2020. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/

Any measures taken by EU member states restricting free movement due to the Covid-19 pandemic should be coordinated and clearly communicated at the EU level, according to the EU Commission.

It has adopted a proposal which sets out four key areas where, it believes, member states should work closer together.

Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said that the measures prioritised the protection of public health, but added that Europe “must avoid further disruption of already fragile economies and additional uncertainty for citizens who have made huge sacrifices. They expect this from us after so many months living with COVID-19.”

Common criteria

The Commission observed that there were wide discrepancies between the criteria member states used to impose travel restrictions. It is thus proposing that each member state takes into account the following:

  • The total number of newly notified COVID-19 cases per 100 000 people in a given area in a 14-day period;
  • The percentage of positive tests from all COVID-19 tests carried out in given area during a seven-day period;
  • The number of COVID-19 tests carried out per 100 000 people in a given area during a seven-day period.

Each member state should provide data on a weekly basis to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), including at the regional level, to ensure that measures can be limited to regions where they are strictly necessary.

Where the member state of departure has a weekly testing rate of more than 250 per 100,000 people – a rate Malta exceeds easily – the Commission suggests that free movement should not be restricted where the total number of new cases is equal to or less than 50 per 100,000 people during a 14-day period. Alternatively, no restrictions should be in place when the percentage of positive tests in a given area is less than 3%.

A common colour code

The Commission is also proposing that the ECDC publishes a map of EU and EEA countries with a common colour code to support member states and travellers. The suggested code is as follows:

  • Green for areas where the total number of newly notified COVID-19 cases is less than 25 during a 14-day period AND the percentage of positive tests from all COVID-19 tests is less than 3%;
  • Orange for an area where the total number of newly notified COVID-19 cases is less than 50 during a 14-day period BUT the percentage of positive tests from all COVID-19 tests is 3% or more OR the total number of newly notified COVID-19 cases is between 25 and 150 BUT the percentage of positive tests from all COVID-19 tests is less than 3%;
  • Red for an area where the total number of newly notified COVID-19 cases is more than 50 during a 14-day period AND the percentage of positive tests from all COVID-19 tests is 3% or more OR the total number of newly notified COVID-19 cases is more than 150 per 100 000 people during a 14-day period;
  • Grey if there is insufficient information available to assess the criteria proposed by the Commission OR the number of COVID-19 tests carried out per 100 000 people is less than 250.

A common approach for high-risk areas

The Commission also proposes a common approach when dealing with travellers hailing from high-risk areas, and that member states should not refuse the entry of persons travelling from others. Instead, those that restrict free movement could require persons travelling from areas classified as red or grey to either undergo quarantine or undergo a Covid-19 test on arrival, with testing being the preferred option.

In the case of “orange” areas, member states could require Covid-19 tests carried out prior to departure or upon arrival.

Travellers performing an essential function should not be required to undergo quarantine.

Clear and timely information

The Commission also insists that member states should provide details of upcoming restrictions to other member states and to the Commission on a weekly basis, and that such changes should be notified a week in advance.

This information should be made available on the re-open EU web platform, with a link to the ECDC’s colour-coded map.