The recent increase in Covid-19 cases across Europe and the emergence of more infectious mutations of the coronavirus have spurred the Commission into action.

On 25 January, the European Commission recommended an update of its recommendations for travel to EU countries and the introduction of new safeguards.  This came following the apparition of new variants of the Coronavirus and a spike in new cases in many EU member states.

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The latter are encouraged to put in place strict rules for travel to curb the spread of the virus. When travelling to the EU as a citizen, long-term resident, for essential reasons or from a country where non-essential travel restrictions have been lifted, a negative PCR test should be made mandatory, the Commission recommended. It also asked that states require all travellers to fill in a Passenger Locator Form, allowing authorities to contact and trace them. Movement from an area where a new variant has been discovered should be restricted, and travellers from these areas need to self-isolate.

Member states are called up to introduce additional measures to ensure that travel into the EU takes place safely. This concerns those travelling to the EU for essential reasons, EU citizens and long-term residents as well as their family members, and those travelling from countries for which the non-essential travel restriction was lifted: 

  • Mandatory testing before departure: Member States should require travellers to have undertaken a negative COVID-19 test (PCR) before departure, and submit proof of such a negative test. The test should be taken at the earliest 72 hours before departure.
    EU citizens
    , residents and their family members should have the possibility to take the test after arrival. Mandatory testing can be combined with a requirement of self-isolation, quarantine and contact tracing as well as additional testing as needed for a period of up to 14 days, provided that the member state concerned imposes the same requirements on its own nationals when travelling from the same non-EU country. Exceptions could be decided for some categories of essential travellers if such requirements would impede the very purpose of the travel. In particular, transport and cross-border workers should be exempted from the requirement to present a negative test and may only be requested to present a negative Rapid Antigen Test on arrival. There are also specific rules for airline staff.  
  • Stricter measures to address virus variants of concernFor trips originating from countries where a variant of concern of the virus has been detected, states should systematically impose safety measures such as self-isolation, quarantine and contact tracing for a period of up to 14 days. In particular, travellers should be required to quarantine and take additional tests upon or after arrival 
  • Common European Passenger Locator Form: Member states should require those entering the EU to submit a Passenger Locator Form in accordance with applicable data protection requirements. A common European Passenger Locator Form should be developed for this purpose 

The Commission also updated its colour-coding system. So far, regions and areas in member states were assigned a colour, ranging from green to red, depending on the incidence of infections per 100.000 inhabitants as well as other criteria. It is one of the basis of that that travel restrictions can be imposed. Now, an additional colour – dark red – was added, where even stricter restrictions apply.

In addition, the Commission set out guidelines to help EU countries determine travel should be considered essential and does thus not fall within the restrictions.

The guidelines will now have to be discussed by the Council of Ministers, where member states are represented. Once the proposal is adopted, it will be for member states to implement the additional safeguards and review the list of non-EU countries from where restrictions should be lifted in light of the updated criteria. The list of countries exempted from travel restrictions is reviewed every fortnight.  

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