European Commission urges member states to prolong travel restriction

The European Commission has urged EU member states to prolong temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU until 15 May

File photo
File photo

The European Commission has invited EU member states and Schengen associated states to prolong the temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU until 15 May.

“The experience of member states and other countries exposed to the pandemic shows the measures applied to fight the spread of the virus require more than 30 days to be effective. The Commission calls for a coordinated approach to the prolongation, as action at the external borders can only be effective if implemented by all EU and Schengen States at all borders, with the same end date and in a uniform manner,” the Commission said in a statement on Wednesday.

The travel restriction, as well as the invitation to extend it, applies to the EU+ area, which includes all member states, including Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania and the four Schengen associated states, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, 30 countries in total.

The Commission referred to a continued rise in the number of new cases and deaths in the EU, as well as to the progression of the pandemic outside of the EU, including in countries from where millions of people usually travel to the EU every year.

“While we can see encouraging first results, prolonging the travel restriction is necessary to continue reducing the risks of the disease spreading further,” Margaritas Schinas said.

Schinas, the vice-president for Promoting a European Way of Life, said that while social distancing measures in EU countries has proven to slow down the spread of COVID-19, not prolonging the travel restriction could prove fruitless in curbing the spread.

Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, added: “The current situation compels us to call for a prolongation of the restriction on non-essential travel to the EU. While coordinated action is key at the external borders, we also need to work together at the internal borders to make sure our internal market continues to function properly, and that vital products such as food, medicines and protective equipment can reach their destination without delay. We will continue assisting member states in all these strands of work.”

The risk of increasing community transmission is assessed by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control to be moderate if mitigation measures are in place and very high if insufficient mitigation measures are in place, while the risk that the capacity of health and social care systems will be exceeded in the coming weeks is assessed as high, even with mitigation measures in place.

Since the implementation of the travel restriction in the second half of March, air passenger traffic has been almost reduced to zero, with the remaining flights being mainly limited to cargo transport and repatriation. A similar trend of passenger traffic can be seen in other modes of transport, such as in ferry, coach and rail transport.

The Commission said it would continue to assist member states in implementing the restriction on non-essential travel to the EU, including through regular discussions in videoconference meetings with Home Affairs Ministers.

Any further prolongation of the travel restriction beyond 15 May would need to be assessed again, based on the evolution of the epidemiological situation, the Commission said.

The travel restriction does not apply to EU citizens.