Covid-19: EC proposes to ease restrictions on non-essential travel to EU

The European Commission (EC) said on May 3 that it was proposing that European Union countries ease the current restrictions on non-essential travel into the EU to take into account the progress of vaccination campaigns and developments in the epidemiological situation worldwide.

The Commission proposes to allow entry to the EU for non-essential reasons not only for everyone coming from countries with a good epidemiological situation but also everyone who has received the last recommended dose of an EU-authorised vaccine.

This could be extended to vaccines having completed the WHO emergency use listing process, the EC said.

In addition, the Commission proposes to raise, in line with the evolution of the epidemiological situation in the EU, the threshold related to the number of new Covid-19 cases used to determine a list of countries from which all travel should be permitted. This should allow the Council of the EU to expand this list, the EC said.

At the same time, the emergence of coronavirus variants of concern calls for continued vigilance, the Commission said.

“Therefore as counter-balance, the Commission proposes a new ‘emergency brake’ mechanism, to be coordinated at EU level and which would limit the risk of such variants entering the EU,” it said.

“This will allow member states to act quickly and temporarily limit to a strict minimum all travel from affected countries for the time needed to put in place appropriate sanitary measures.”

The Commission is proposing that member states lift restrictions on non-essential travel for vaccinated persons travelling to the EU. This reflects the latest scientific advice showing that vaccination considerably helps to break the transmission chain, the EC said.

Member states should allow travel into the EU of those people who have received, at least 14 days before arrival, the last recommended dose of a vaccine having received marketing authorisation in the EU. They could also extend this to those vaccinated with a vaccine that has completed the WHO emergency use listing process.

In addition, if member states decide to waive the requirements to present a negative PCR test and/or to undergo quarantine for vaccinated persons on their territory, they should also waive such requirements for vacccinated travellers from outside the EU.

The EC said that this should be facilitated once the Digital Green Certificate becomes operational, in line with the rules the Commission proposed on March 17.

“In particular, travellers should be able to prove their vaccination status with a Digital Green Certificate issued by member states’ authorities on an individual basis, or with another certificate recognised as equivalent by virtue of a Commission adequacy decision.”

Until the Digital Green Certificate is operational, member states should be able to accept certificates from non-EU countries based on national law, taking into account the ability to verify the authenticity, validity and integrity of the certificate and whether it contains all relevant data.

The EC said that member states could consider setting up a portal allowing travellers to ask for the recognition of a vaccination certificate issued by a non-EU country as reliable proof of vaccination and/or for the issuance of a Digital Green Certificate.

Children who are excluded from vaccination should be able to travel with their vaccinated parents if they have a negative PCR Covid-19 test taken at the earliest 72 hours before arrival area. In these cases, member states could require additional testing after arrival.

Non-essential travel regardless of individual vaccination status is currently permitted from seven countries with a good epidemiological situation. This list is decided by the Council on the basis of epidemiological criteria contained in the current recommendation.

The Commission is proposing to amend the criteria to take into account the mounting evidence of the positive impact of vaccination campaigns. The proposal is to increase the threshold of 14-day cumulative Covid-19 case notification rate from 25 to 100. This remains considerably below the current EU average, which is over 420.

The adapted threshold should allow the Council to expand the list of countries from which non-essential travel is permitted regardless of vaccination status, subject to health-related measures such as testing and/or quarantine. As now, the Council should review this list at least every two weeks.

Those travelling for essential reasons, including notably healthcare professionals, cross-border workers, seasonal agricultural workers, transport staff and seafarers, passengers in transit, those travelling for imperative family reasons or those coming to study should continue to be allowed to enter the EU, regardless of whether they are vaccinated or which country they come from, the EC said.

The same applies to EU citizens and long-term residents as well as their family members. Such travel should continue to be subject to health-related measures, such as testing and quarantine as decided by member states.

When the epidemiological situation of a non-EU country worsens quickly and in particular if a variant of concern or interest is detected, a member state can urgently and temporarily suspend all inbound travel by non-EU citizens resident in such a country, the EC said.

The only exceptions in this case would be healthcare professionals, transport personnel, diplomats, transit passengers, those travelling for imperative family reasons, seafarers, and persons in need of international protection or for other humanitarian reasons. Such travellers should be subject to strict testing and quarantine arrangements even if they have been vaccinated, the Commission said.

When a member state applies such restrictions, the member states meeting within the Council structures should review the situation together in a coordinated manner and in close cooperation with the Commission, and they should continue doing so at least every two weeks, it said.

It is now for the Council to consider this proposal, the EC said.

A first discussion is scheduled at technical level in the Council’s integrated political crisis response (IPCR) meeting taking place on May 4, followed by a discussion at the meeting of EU Ambassadors (Coreper) on May 5.

Once the proposal is adopted by the Council, it will be for member states to implement the measures set out in the recommendation. The Council should review the list of non-EU countries exempted from the travel restriction in light of the updated criteria and continue doing so every two weeks. 

(Photo: Sofia Airport)

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