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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

Return of the health pass? How France plans to tackle new wave of Covid cases

With a sharp rise in reported cases in recent weeks, France appears to be in the middle of a new wave of Covid infections - so what measures are the government taking to control it?

Return of the health pass? How France plans to tackle new wave of Covid cases

Recorded case numbers in France are now over 50,000 a week, and have been since the beginning of June – this is a long way short of the 350,000 weekly cases recorded in January but still the highest since May and representing a steady an increase of 57 percent on the previous week.

Hospital admissions are also on the rise – standing at 707 admissions on Friday, June 24th compared to 400 daily admissions just two weeks earlier.

So what is the French government doing about it?

Since March, almost all Covid-related restrictions have been lifted in France – the health pass is no longer required for everyday activities such as visiting a bar or going to the gym and face masks are now merely advised in all indoor locations. Only hospitals and other health establishments such as nursing homes still have mandatory rules on face masks and health passes.

For international travel, fully vaccinated arrivals from most countries – including the UK, US and the whole of the EU – need only to show proof of vaccination, while unvaccinated travellers need to show proof of a recent negative Covid test – full details HERE.

Health pass

A proposed bill from the health ministry that was leaked to French media talks about re-imposing some form of pass sanitaire (health pass) to get numbers under control.

Some caveats to add here is that the document is only a proposal at this stage and the government has explicitly rules out – for the moment – reintroducing the vaccine pass. The health pass can be used to show either proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test, so it is less restrictive for the unvaccinated.

The document suggests re-introducing a health pass for travel – both to and from France – not for everyday activities like going to a café.

Testing and contact tracing

The bill also proposes extending the software involved in contact tracing and the Covid testing programme until March 2023, although this is described as a ‘precaution’.

Testing remains available on a walk-in basis at most French pharmacies and by appointment at health centres and medical labs. Tests are free for fully-vaccinated residents of France who have a carte vitale. Those are only visiting France, who are not registered in the French health system or who are not vaccinated have to pay – prices are capped at €22 for an antigen test and €54 for a PCR test.

READ ALSO How tourists in France can get a Covid test

Masks

The government’s Covid vaccine adviser Alain Fischer told France Info that he was in favour of making face masks compulsory on public transport again and said it is ‘being discussed” at government level.

At present masks are not required, but are recommended, especially on busy services where it is impossible to practice social distancing.

Epidemiologist Pascal Crépey said: “In crowded trains, the risk of being in the presence of infected people is high. It would be a good idea for the population to wear the mask, to protect especially the most fragile and avoid massive infection rates.”

Local measures

French local authorities also have the power to impose certain types of restrictions if their area has a particularly high rate of infections.

At present, none have done so, but Nice mayor Christian Estrosi has spoken in favour of possibly bringing back the vaccine pass over the summer.

Second booster shots

A second booster shot of the Covid vaccine is now available to all over 60s and anyone who has a long-term medical condition or who is otherwise at risk from Covid.

It is recommended that the government increase public messaging advising those in high risk groups to get the second booster shot. The medical regular HAS has advised combining second booster shots with the seasonal flu vaccine campaign in September and October.

France is not, at present, considering widening the campaign to the entire popular, but the EU’s vaccine commissioner Thierry Breton says that if necessary, there would be enough doses to cover the whole population.

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