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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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TRAVEL NEWS

How Spain’s air traffic control strike could hit your travel plans

Many of Spain’s air traffic controllers have been called to strike over the next month. Find out which dates and which airports will be affected.

How Spain's air traffic control strike could hit your travel plans

The workers’ unions USCA and CCOO have called around 162 air traffic controllers working at privatised control towers around the country to organise walkouts throughout February, affecting 28.5 percent of all air traffic in Spain.

The walkouts began on Monday January 30th and will continue every Monday until February 27th during “all work shifts that begin between 00:00 and 24:00,” they stated. Specifically, the strike days will occur on February 6th, 13th, 20th and 27th.

The airports affected by the strike will be A Coruña, Alicante-Elche, Castellón, Cuatro Vientos (Madrid), El Hierro, Fuerteventura, Ibiza, Jerez, Lanzarote, La Palma, Lleida, Murcia, Sabadell, Seville, Valencia and Vigo.

The Ministry of Transport has set minimum services depending on the type of route, which reaches 100 percent for emergency flights, the transfer of citizens or foreigners guarded by police officers and the transport of post and perishable products.  

For commercial flights with routes originating or ending at non-peninsular airports, the minimum services range between 52 percent from Lleida to 84 percent from La Coruña, depending on the estimated occupancy.

In the case of routes between foreign or Spanish cities whose travel time by road is at least five hours, the minimum services will be between 44 percent from La Palma and 57 percent from Alicante.  

For routes that can be replaced by other means of public transport in less than five hours, the minimum guaranteed services will be between 18 percent from Castellón and 30 percent from Vigo.

The workers are asking for a 5.5 percent salary increase but the proposal offered by their employers, which is 2 percent in 2023 and 2.5 percent in 2024, is “very far from their demands”.

The USCA and CCOO unions have decided to call the stoppages due to “the failure of the negotiations” with the Business Association of Civil Air Traffic Providers of the Liberalised Market (APCTA). They finally gave up trying to find a solution after several “unfruitful” meetings.

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