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European Countries Agree on New COVID-19 Travel Guidelines

AFAR logo AFAR 10/14/2020 Michelle Baran

a group of people standing on a lush green hillside: European Countries Agree on New COVID-19 Travel Guidelines © Photo by Shutterstock European Countries Agree on New COVID-19 Travel Guidelines

As residents of many countries—including the United States—remain banned from traveling to much of Europe, travel within Europe has not proven to be much easier throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

As of early October, travelers coming from the United Kingdom could enter France without restrictions, but those going in the opposite direction were required to quarantine for 14 days. Those heading to Germany from certain European countries and regions had to quarantine until they provided negative COVID-19 test results. Travelers to Italy coming from EU countries had to fill out a health form, unless they were coming from Belgium, France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, or Spain (then they had to provide proof of a negative test). It went on and on.

But the dizzying patchwork of rules and regulations for travel within Europe should soon be a thing of the past. European Union countries this week approved a series of guidelines aimed at facilitating a more unified approach to travel within Europe during the pandemic.

The European Commission established a set of criteria that countries should follow to determine how and whether to restrict arrivals. They include:

  • Coronavirus cases—Member states should not restrict travel from other countries with fewer than 50 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people over the last 14 days.
  • Test positivity rates—Member states should not restrict travel from other countries with a COVID-19 test positivity rate of less than 3 percent provided that the weekly testing rate exceeds 250 tests per 100,000 people.
  • Reporting—Member states should supply the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) with their coronavirus case and testing data on a weekly basis to create a common database.

As countries furnish their coronavirus data, the ECDC will be able to produce a color-coded map (which will be published regularly on the European Commission’s Re-open EU site) that will allow for more informed and consistent decisions about travel restrictions across Europe.

A color-coded map of Europe with COVID-19 travel data will indicate:

  • Green—if the new case rate is less than 25 per 100,000 and the test positivity rate is less than 3 percent
  • Orange—if the new case rate is less than 50 per 100,000 but the test positivity rate is 3 percent or greater, or if the new case rate ranges from 25 to 150 per 100,000 but the test positivity rate is less than 3 percent
  • Red—if the new case rate is 50 or more per 100,000 and the test positivity rate is 3 percent or more
  • Gray—if there is not sufficient data or testing available

Each week, the ECDC will publish an updated version of the map. Countries will then be able to implement either a quarantine or a mandatory COVID-19 test for travelers coming from countries coded as red or gray.

Under the criteria adopted Tuesday, most EU regions would currently be either red or orange because Europe is currently experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases.

The European Commission’s proposal: fewer quarantines, more tests

During their October 13 meeting in Luxembourg, envoys for the 27 member states of the European Commission agreed on the common approach to travel restrictions. But because it’s not a binding agreement, independent countries can continue to implement either quarantine or testing measures (or even outright bans) as they see fit. The hope, however, is that some greater uniformity will emerge.

The European Commission is pushing for testing as a coronavirus control method over quarantines.

“Wherever possible, the possibility to undergo tests for COVID-19 infection instead of quarantine should be the preferred option,” the European Commission stated.

In a statement following the October 13 agreement, the European Commission said that European countries “learned our lessons: we will not surmount the crisis by unilaterally closing borders.”

The Commission said that member countries had agreed to recognize the use of tests and will continue to work together to create a standard for testing and quarantine requirements.

What intra-Europe travel looks like now

Until European countries unilaterally implement the new measures, the existing situation for intra-European travel is a bit of an ever-evolving puzzle. Here is a brief summary of how some countries are approaching it as of October 14:

  • United Kingdom: The United Kingdom continues to update its list of countries and territories that are exempted from its otherwise required 14-day quarantine. European countries that are notably absent from the list as of October 14 include Austria, Belgium, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland. Travelers from any of those countries must quarantine until the country is added to the “safe list”—or until the United Kingdom formally adopts a new system.
  • France: Those who enter France from the European Union, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom can do so without any COVID-19-related restrictions or paperwork, according to the French government. Travelers who are not from the exempted countries may not enter unless they are French citizens or permanent residents or fall into a number of categories of exceptions (such as those in transit and traveling for business).
  • Germany: Germany maintains a list of countries—and even specific counties and regions within countries—that it deems as “international risk areas.” Travelers from these risk areas must quarantine until they produce a negative coronavirus test result. In the October 7 incarnation of the list, counties and provinces within the Czech Republic, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Lithuania had been added to the list, along with the entire country of Romania.
  • Italy: As of October 7, travelers coming to Italy from EU countries must simply fill out a health form, unless they are coming from Belgium, France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, or Spain—then they must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Those arriving from Romania must quarantine.
  • Ireland: Ireland is one of the few countries in Europe that is actually following the European Commission’s guidance. It has identified a list of countries deemed lower risk based on data provided by the ECDC, and travelers from those countries do not need to quarantine (all other arrivals do). Effective October 12, no countries in Europe made the list.
  • Greece: Residents of European Union countries, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway, Lichtenstein, and Iceland can enter Greece, but those coming from Bulgaria, Romania, Malta, Belgium, Spain, Albania, North Macedonia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test procured within 72 hours prior to travel.

This is far from an exhaustive list, but it serves as an example of just how different all the rules and regulations have been within Europe. It remains vital that travelers crossing borders within Europe are up to date on the latest coronavirus-related travel restrictions because they are constantly changing.

It is not yet clear exactly when the new system will go into effect.

This story was originally published on September 21, 2020. It has been updated on October 14, 2020, to include current information. The Associated Press contributed reporting.

>> Next: Europe Extends Its Travel Ban—and Americans Are Still Not Allowed In

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