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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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HIKING

Eight of the best hikes in Catalonia

Long-term Catalonia resident and hiking enthusiast Esme Fox shares her tips and knowledge of some of the best routes in the northeastern region, with stunning waterfalls, volcanoes and lakes on the itinerary. 

Eight of the best hikes in Catalonia

Almost every region in Spain offers a great array of hiking routes, but perhaps some of the best and most diverse can be found in the northeastern region of Catalonia, where you have the Pyrenees in the north, the coast to the east and countless natural parks in the interior. 

Camí de Ronda
The longest and most picturesque of all the routes in Catalonia is the Camí de Ronda or Camino de Ronda. It runs all the way along the coast from the border with France down to the border with the Valencia region. Passing through quaint coastal villages, along clifftops and even through tunnels, the route was originally created by smugglers who used to take their loot from one bay to the next. Later, these routes were joined together to form one long one by the civil guard, in order to control and catch the criminals.

The trail runs for a whopping 583km throughout the whole region, but the most spectacular and well-known sections of the hike lie within the Costa Brava, which starts from Blanes and runs all the way up to Portbou on the French border. This part is around 220km long and can be done in 12 stages, taking a total of 12 days. It’s not necessary to do the whole route, however, you could easily take a single stage and make a day trip out of it. It’s best done in early summer before the crowds arrive or in September when it’s still warm enough to swim along the way, but all the holidaymakers have gone home.  

The Camino de Ronda takes you right along the coast. Photo: Esme Fox
 

Mont-Rebei Gorge
The Congost de Mont-Rebei gorge is one of the most striking in the whole of Catalonia, where incredible aquamarine waters run between dramatic ravines and lofty cliff tops and vultures soar overhead. It’s a popular route and is moderately challenging with several ascents and dips walking along narrow pathways or staircases clinging to the edge of the rock. It’s situated approximately a three-hour drive west of Barcelona on the border with Aragón. You can choose to hike longer or shorter sections of the route, but the main and most popular part is around 12km there and back.

Hike along the sides of a gorge at Mont Rebei. Photo: Ramon Perucho / Pixabay

Ruta dels 7 Gorgs
Near the small village of Campdevánol​​​ in the province of Girona, close to the foothills of the Pyrenees, you’ll find one of the most thrilling hikes on our list – the route of the seven waterfalls. It’s exactly like it sounds, a hiking route between seven different waterfalls. It’s best to go in summer as you can swim in each of the falls, letting the icy water from the Pyrenees cool you down on those hot Spanish days. It’s a circular route of just 10km, with an extra 6km if you’re walking from Campdevánol​​​ train station, but it could end up taking all day if you plan on swimming in each. The route is relatively easy, but there are some tricky steep parts getting down and up again from some of the waterfalls. Because it’s so popular, the number of people allowed in per day is limited and you must pay an eco-tax fee of €5 per person from June to November.

Take a dip in the Campdevánol waterfalls to cool down. Photo: Alberto-g-rovi / WikiCommons
 

Camí del Vi
Catalonia’s wine route lies within the Penedès, an area known for producing excellent wines and cavas and home to some of the best wineries in the region. It starts in the town of Vilafranca del Penedès, the capital of the wine region and runs for 3.5km, taking around three hours to complete in total, there and back. From the tourist office, you’ll walk through the town and then out into the vineyards themselves. Along the way are eight different stations where you will learn about wine production and the life cycle of the vine, as well as the different varieties of grapes that grow in the area. There are plenty of bodegas (wineries) near by where you can stop for a drink too. 

Hike the wine route in Catalonia. Photo: Esme Fox

Ruta de los 7 Lagos del Circ de Colomers
Between the National Park of Aigüestortes and the Vall d’Aran, just went of Andorra in the high Pyrenees lies the route of the seven lakes. It’s a total of 15km, but there are taxis that can take you from the car park to the beginning of the route and back, taking it down to just 7km. One of the most spectacularly beautiful hiking routes, as the name suggests, it passes seven glassy mountain lakes hemmed in by towering peaks and verdant forests. It’s of medium difficulty level, meaning it’s best if you have a bit of experience with hiking in the mountains.  

This hiking route takes you past seven mountain lakes. Photo: rodolfo7 / Pixabay

Ruta por los volcanes de la Garrotxa
Just north of Girona lies La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park, which offers one of the best examples of volcanic landscapes on the Iberian Peninsula, featuring 40 ancient volcanic cones and around 20 old lava flows. One of the best ways to explore it is via the various hiking routes throughout the park. The best is the circular hike from La Fageda d’en Jordà to the Santa Margarida volcano and on to El Croscat volcano, which is 12km and takes just over four hours complete.

Hike through the land of ancient volcanoes in La Garrotxa. Photo: Carquinyol / WikiCommons

Subida al Pedraforca
The most challenging hike on our list is the ascent of Mount Pedraforca, located in the high Pyrenees, just below Andorra. It’s one of Catalonia’s most iconic-looking mountains – resembling a pitchfork with a small dip in between two soaring pointed peaks, one measuring 2444m and the other 2506m. The starting points generally begin at the Mirador de Gersolet viewpoint, but there are several routes to reach the top. It takes between five and seven hours to complete, depending on your experience but is best avoided in winter and early spring from December to April when the snow can make it even more difficult.

Challenge yourself with the ascent of Pedraforca. Photo: Josep Monter Martinez / Pixabay

Ruta de Carros de Foc
Another hike within the mighty National Park of Aigüestortes is the grand Carros de Foc or Chariots of Fire. It’s a circular route of 65km and takes between five to seven days to complete between nine different mountain refuges, where you can stay the night. The route is characterised by high mountains and large granite boulders, as well as several sparkling mountain lakes. You’ll need some experience and stamina to complete this one. 

Hike the Ruta de Carros de Foc. Photo: Ferran Ventura / Unsplash
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