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COVID-19

Could all passenger traffic to Europe from non-EU countries be halted over Covid variants?

EU leaders will hold talks on Thursday to discuss ways to limit the spread of new Covid-19 variants throughout Europe. One proposal that will be considered is a complete ban on passenger traffic between non-EU countries - including the UK - and the EU for limited periods.

Could all passenger traffic to Europe from non-EU countries be halted over Covid variants?
Eurostar passengers head to France from the UK but could passenger traffic be halted in future? AFP

Under a proposal put forward by Germany, the EU would be allowed to halt passenger traffic from “third-countries” where the virus variants are prevalent in order to protect public health.

If adopted that would mean all passenger services between non-EU countries, including the UK which is struggling to deal with a spike in infections blamed on a more contagious variant, and the EU could be suspended for a “limited time”.

The proposal states: “Where member states consider this necessary to protect public health, they are free to impose temporary bans on entry and on transporting passengers entering from [non-EU] countries with virus variant areas.”

Travel is already heavily restricted between the UK and the EU, partly because of the ongoing lockdown in the UK but mainly because the EU has barred non-essential travel from non-EU countries since March 2020.

Individual countries like France have also imposed strict rules for travellers from non-EU countries such as the UK including mandatory negative test and quarantine for all arrivals.

Germany itself has imposed similar measures.

But the German proposal wants to limit the exemptions for “essential travel” which have been in place since the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic. 

These exemptions have allowed travel for EU citizens or residents returning home but also covered groups such as delivery drivers, diplomats, cross-border workers and those travelling for “imperative family reasons”.

In what would be a controversial move, Germany is proposing that any ban on passenger traffic could also cover EU citizens and those who have residency in the country, which would prevent them from travelling home.

 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel signalled she was seeking a tightening of border controls earlier this week when she announced an extension and tightening of domestic Covid-19 restrictions.

If countries didn't act then Germany would go it alone, she warned.

“If countries should decide to take different paths… you have to be ready to say then, we'll have to reintroduce border controls. We don't want that, we want to find an agreement with our partners, but we can't have that (infections) just coming because other countries are taking another path,” she said.

France, too, has been keen to find a Europe-wide solution on travel restrictions. However individual EU countries are free to make their own decisions on border issues, so could opt out of the measures and decide on their own.

France banned all passenger and goods traffic from the UK just before Christmas over concerns raised about the rapid spread of the new variant.

The German proposal will be discussed at the EU council meeting on Thursday which will be held by video-conference.

“Only if member states take joint and coordinated action, can the virus be contained effectively,” said the German proposal.

“For this reason we see an urgent need to act in order to prevent or at least slow down the spread of worrying virus variants to and within the EU area plus Switzerland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland.”

The UK-based Times newspaper, which reported the story, believes it will be adopted in some form.

“The move has the backing of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and is almost certain to be agreed,” the paper says.

 

Member comments

  1. If adopted, would freight drivers be given a pass (subject to a negative Covid test) again? They are about the only people moving back and forth from the UK at the moment so are essentially the leaking faucet of virus transmission from the UK.

  2. When it says “Hold talks on Thursday” and the article was written on a Thursday, it makes it hard to know when the talks will be held. Can someone confirm a calendar date for the talks (in case I know of someone that needs to change their return ticket home).

  3. Published on this page at midday so talks can still be today (& many of France’s anouncements have been on Thursday evenings).

  4. If only all intl travel has been stopped in Dec 2019. If the WHO had told us what Taiwan tried to tell them but were ignored. Maybe all this could have been avoided. Meaning no ferries no trains crossing countries no cruises no air travel

  5. In my opinion, too many people have been traveling to see family and friends. Many of these trips are simply not essential – but folks say that they are doing it for their mental health.

  6. can anyone tell me if there is a ban on EU citizens travelling to Italy. I am an Irish citizen in London and Alitalia will not let me board flights. Who do I appeal to? I am trying to reunite with my partner in Roma but I do not have proof of residency.

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COVID-19

French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The French parliament has passed the controversial health bill which updates France's emergency provisions for Covid - and allows the return of negative Covid tests for all travellers at the border, if the health situation requires.

French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The Loi sanitaire was eventually approved by the Assemblée nationale on Monday after several variations and amendments added on its passage through the Assemblée and the Senate. It was voted on and passed Tuesday, May 26th. 

The bill replaces the State of Health Emergency that has been in place since March 2020 and puts in place provision for government actions should the health situation deteriorate or a dangerous new variant of Covid emerge.

The original text had a provision for the return of the health pass at the border, but this has now been scrapped and instead the government has the right to make a negative Covid test a condition of entry for all travellers.

At present negative tests are required only for unvaccinated travellers, and the new test requirement would only be put into force if a dangerous new variant emerges.

The government will be able to implement the testing rule by decree for two months, but a further parliamentary debate would be required to extend it beyond that.

From August 1st the State of Health Emergency will be formally repealed, which means that the government no longer has the power to introduce major limits on personal freedom such as lockdowns or curfews without first having a debate in parliament.

The bill also allows for an extension of data collection required for the SI-DEP epidemic monitoring tools such as the contact tracing app Tous Anti Covid until June 30th, 2023 and Contact Covid until January 31st, 2023. 

The most controversial measure in the bill was the reinstatement of healthcare workers who were suspended for being unvaccinated – this actually only involves a couple of hundred people but medical unions and the medical regulator Haut Autorité de Santé (HAS) have both been against it.

However the bill allows for the eventual lifting of the requirement for Covid vaccination for healthcare workers, when the HAS judges it is no longer necessary and once the requirement is lifted, the suspended healthcare workers will be reinstated “immediately”.

The bill was approved on Monday evening with 184 votes to 149, the result of a joint committee that was able to harmonise the versions of the Assembly and the Senate.

The final vote passed the Senate on Tuesday.

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