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COVID-19

Which countries in Europe would be on the EU’s list of ‘dark red zones’ for Covid-19?

The EU has proposed imposing extra travel restrictions on parts of Europe with very high rates of Covid-19 infections, but which countries would currently be included on the list?

Which countries in Europe would be on the EU's list of 'dark red zones' for Covid-19?
AFP

With Covid-19 infection rates rising around Europe the EU has been under pressure to introduce coordinated travel restrictions for those moving within the EU.

Last week The Local reported the announcement by EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen regarding the proposal to classify parts of Europe with high infection rates as “dark red zones”.

“People travelling from dark red zones could be required to do a test before departure, as well as to undergo quarantine after arrival. This is within the European Union,” she said.

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

The official map has not yet been published but will be created by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

The EU executive is against border closures and instead has suggested tightening the restrictions in regions with an incidence rate of more than 500 infections per 100,000 inhabitants.

“The common map and a common approach to proportionate, non-discriminatory restrictions must still guide our efforts. What we need now in view of the new variants is even more coordination and a joint European effort to discourage non-essential travel. Border closures will not help, common measures will,” said Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders.

READ ALSO: These are the current travel restrictions in place around Europe

As of Monday January 25th, 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, EU Observer reports.

However by Tuesday January 26th Sweden's incidence rate had dropped below the threshold to 479/ 100,000.

Spain's current infection rate as of Tuesday January 26th was an average of 885/100,000 inhabitants over a 14 day period but in some regions the infection rate had risen to 1,400/100,000.

But within certain countries not on that list above, such as Italy and France, there are regions where the infection rates are pushing towards are even over the 500/100,000 threshold set by the Commission.

As well as the dark red zones European countries would also be classified into green, orange, red and grey areas, as they are already in maps produced by the ECDC.

The Commission is also proposing additional safety measures for the EU's external borders.

Travel into the EU is heavily restricted but essential trips are allowed. The Commission proposes that all travellers should undergo testing before departure as well be subject to a period in self-isolation of up to 14 days and further testing.

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

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

The EU Commission can only make recommendations and it is up to the EU council whether to approve them. 

But given borders are governed at a national level many countries within the EU and Schengen area have already taken action to impose these kind of measures.

The question of imposing restrictions on internal borders to fight the spread of more contagious Covid-19 variants has risen to the fore in recent days, pushed mainly by concerns raised by Germany and France.

Germany had proposed temporary and limited bans on all passenger traffic from non-EU countries if necessary, whilst France on Thursday night announced that anyone entering France by air or sea from within the EU must present a negative Covid-19 test. Hauliers and cross-border workers are exempt.

Border restrictions are a matter for individual member states but France and Germany plus EU officials in Brussels have been pushing for a coordinated response after the travel chaos that occurred during the first wave of the pandemic in spring 2020.

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HEALTH

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new ‘biometric’ health card

The French parliament has approved a €20 million project to launch a 'biometric' version of the carte vitale health insurance card.

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new 'biometric' health card

As part of the French government’s package of financial aid for the cost-of-living crisis, €20 million will be set set aside to launch a biometric health card, after an amendment proposed by senators was approved.

Right-wing senators made this measure a “condition” of their support for the financial aid package, according to French left-wing daily Libération, and on Thursday the measure was approved by the Assemblée nationale.

While it sounds quite high tech, the idea is relatively simple, according to centre-right MP Thibault Bazin: the carte vitale would be equipped with a chip that “contains physical characteristics of the insured, such as their fingerprints” which would allow healthcare providers to identify them.

The carte vitale is the card that allows anyone registered in the French health system to be reimbursed for medical costs such as doctor’s appointments, medical procedures and prescriptions. The card is linked to the patient’s bank account so that costs are reimbursed directly into the bank account, usually within a couple of days.

READ ALSO How a carte vitale works and how to get one

According to the centre-right Les Républicains group, the reason for having a ‘biometric’ carte vitale is to fight against welfare fraud.

They say this would have two functions; firstly the biometric data would ensure the card could only be used by the holder, and secondly the chip would allow for instant deactivation if the card was lost of stolen.

Support for the biometric carte vitale has mostly been concentrated with right-wing representatives, however, opponants say that the implementation of the tool would be costly and lengthy.

It would involve replacing at least 65 million cards across France and repurposing them with biometric chips, in addition to taking fingerprints for all people concerned.

Additionally, all healthcare professionals would have to join the new system and be equipped with devices capable of reading fingerprints. 

Left-leaning representatives have also voiced concerns regarding the protection of personal data and whether plans would comply with European regulations for protecting personal data, as the creation of ‘biometric’ carte vitales would inevitably lead to the creation of a centralised biometric database. Additionally, there are concerns regarding whether this sensitive personal information could be exposed to cybercrime, as the health insurance system in France has been targeted by hackers in the past.

Finally, there is concern that the amount of financial loss represented by carte vitale fraud has been overestimated. The true figures are difficult to establish, but fraud related to carte vitale use is only a small part of general welfare fraud, which also covers unemployment benefits and other government subsidy schemes.

The scheme is set to begin in the autumn, but there us no information on how this will be done, and whether the biometric chip will just be added to new cards, or whether existing cards will be replaced with new ones. 

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