The European Commission's plan for a lifting of travel restrictions has been set out. The plan is designed to guide the lifting of border controls while also providing guidelines in respect of tourism, transport and consumer protection. The commission is, in particular, wanting member states to improve coordination and to avoid generating confusion among the public.
The current situation is one in which many internal borders are closed. Based on information supplied by member states, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control will draw up a list of countries and the situation with coronavirus in these countries. The intention is that where countries have similar situations of virus control, there should be a lifting of restrictions on movement between these counties. The commission is therefore considering the notion of health corridors for what would be the next phase.
The overriding objective is that as member states succeed in reducing the spread of the virus, generalised restrictions as they stand at present should be replaced by more precise measures. Travel restrictions and border controls should be gradually eliminated across the EU if epidemiological developments maintain their current positive trend. The next phase would therefore involve a general lifting of controls and restrictions. The commission contemplates there being very little limitation, so long as health security protocols are applied to transport, car rental, recreational boats, accommodation, attractions and other.
There will still be the important need to maintain measures such as social distancing. When crossing borders, the commission is saying that consistent information about this should be given to all EU citizens. So, for instance, text messages could be sent to mobile phones every time someone crosses a border.
The commission believes that with proper, safe and coordinated management, European citizens will be able to take holidays and to be reunited with family and friends in different member states. The aim is to facilitate the taking of holidays and, in particular, to save the tourism industry. The commission is of the view that at least part of the summer season can be saved, and so recommends that member states allow the entry and exit of travellers into and from countries that have the same epidemiological status. It is advocating the restoration of air connections between countries, provided that they are at the same phases of de-escalation.
With the "health corridors" for countries that are at similar stages of development, the commission is considering the mode of travel. Journeys should be by plane between countries at these similar stages. This would avoid passing through countries that might not be.
The final phase would involve restoring normality for travel within the Schengen area.
Criteria include the capacity of health services to deal with new cases of coronavirus. Health protection measures, in the opinion of the commission, should be consistent, but it recognises that it does not have powers in respect of health management as this is a matter for member states.
The six points that have to be considered for tourism to restart are: declining and stabilising number of new Covid-19 cases; sufficient health system capacity to cope with new cases, including among tourists; robust surveillance and monitoring systems; sufficient testing and contact tracing capacity; coordination with other countries and clear communications to citizens; comprehensive preparedness plans.
The guidelines also refer to an insistence on the wearing of masks on planes and at airports, to a reorganisation of check-ins, dropoffs and baggage reclaim in order to avoid crowds. The commission does not believe that it is necessary to leave middle seats on planes vacant.
The essential message coming from the European Commission on Wednesday is one of urging a return to unrestricted free movement if the health situation allows.