European Commission adopts Recommendation on EU coordinated approach to travel and transport in response to new variant of coronavirus in the UK

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Following the rapid increase of COVID-19 cases in parts of England, of which a large proportion belongs to a new variant of the virus, the Commission today adopted a Recommendation on a coordinated approach to travel and transport measures. The recommendation builds on the Council Recommendation of 13 October on a coordinated approach to free movement in response to the COVID19-pandemic and several other guidance documents adopted by the Commission in the past months, in particular the Green Lanes Communication. While it is important to take swift temporary precautionary action to limit the further spread of the new strain of the virus and all non-essential travel to and from the UK should be discouraged, essential travel and transit of passengers should be facilitated. Flight and train bans should be discontinued given the need to ensure essential travel and avoid supply chain disruptions.

Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, said: “Given the current uncertainties and in light of the precautionary principle, Member States should take coordinated action to discourage non-essential travel between the UK and the EU. At the same time, blanket travel bans should not prevent thousands of EU and UK citizens from returning to their homes. While precautions are needed to contain the spread of the new coronavirus variant, with today’s Recommendation, we, therefore, ensure that the restrictions are coordinated and provide for the necessary exemptions for citizens and residents returning home and other essential travellers.”

Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said: “Since March, the Commission has developed solid recommendations on internal and external border control for Member States to follow. This track record allows us to address the evolving situation and the new challenges that the pandemic poses. To be effective, our actions must be coordinated and today we are facilitating swift action to address the new coronavirus variant while ensuring that essential journeys can still take place.”

Commissioner for Transport, Adina Vălean, said: “With today’s recommendation we offer clarity to the Member States on how to keep the connectivity and ensure transport services following the discovery of the new strain of the COVID virus. Within the EU, it is crucial that transport workers are exempted from any restrictive measures, as quarantine and testing. We have to continue to maintain the supply chains intact, in line with our Green Lanes Communication.”

Until the end of December, free movement rules still apply to the UK. This means that Member States should not in principle refuse the entry of persons travelling from the UK. After the end of the transition period, the UK will be subject to Council Recommendation on the temporary restriction on non-essential travel into the EU and the possible lifting of such restriction.

The Commission recommends to Member States that:

  • They should implement the principles of the October Council Recommendation on coordinating free movement restrictions. In the light of the precautionary principle, all non-essential travel to and from the UK should be discouraged until further notice.
  • However, Union citizens and UK citizens travelling to their Member State or country of residence as well as third-country nationals that enjoy EU free movement rights should be exempted from further temporary restrictions provided that they undergo a test or quarantine.
  • Travellers with an essential function, for instance medical staff, should be required to undergo a test (RT-PCR test or a rapid antigen test within 72 hours prior to departure), but should not be required to undergo quarantine while exercising this essential function.
  • Transport staff, within the EU, should be exempted from any travel ban across any border and from testing and quarantine requirements when they are travelling across a border to and from a vessel, vehicle, or aircraft. Where a Member State, in the specific context of the situation between the EU and the UK and in the coming days, requires rapid antigen tests for transport workers, this should not lead to transport disruptions.
  • Transit of passengers, especially for essential travel, should be facilitated without quarantine. A test can be required, but authorities need to inform about such requirement in advance or offer testing during the journey.
  • Given the need to ensure essential travel and transit home as described in the recommendation, any prohibition of transport services, such as flight or train bans, should be discontinued.
  • Cargo flows need to continue uninterrupted, in accordance with the Green Lanes and the Air Cargo Communication, not least to ensure the timely distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, for example.
  • The public health authorities of the Member States should increase sequencing efforts and analyse virus isolates in a timely manner to swiftly identify cases of the new variant. They should also immediately identify cases involving persons who travelled to or from the UK in the past 14 days or who are close contacts of confirmed cases in order to ensure the appropriate follow up (eg. RT-PCR testing, isolation, enhanced contact tracing).

Next Steps

In line with Article 126 of the Agreement on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community, the transition period agreed by the parties will expire on 31 December 2020.

As of 1 January 2021, the United Kingdom will become a third country and Member States shall start applying the Recommendation on the temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU to persons travelling from the UK, in view of the end of the transition period. Accordingly, in principle only essential travel may take place from the United Kingdom. In order to benefit from an exemption from this general travel restriction, the Council would need to decide to add the United Kingdom to the list of third countries whose residents should not be affected by temporary external borders restriction on non-essential travel to the EU. The list is reviewed regularly by Member States in the Council.

However, this limitation to essential travel shall not apply to Union citizens resident in the UK and UK nationals who are long-term residents in an EU Member States under the Long-term Residence Directive, independent of the purpose of travel.

Background

This year the Commission has played an important role in ensuring both the free movement of people and the free movement of goods within the European Union.

The Commission adopted a number of guidance documents on Green Lanes, including its Communication in October upgrading the concept of Green Lanes to cover not only road but also rail, waterborne freight and air cargo, to ensure that essential supply chains continue to function and to avoid any disruption of freight and logistics in the EU in the second wave of the pandemic.

On 30 June, the Council adopted a Recommendation on the temporary restriction on non-essential travel into the EU and the possible lifting of such restriction. In that Recommendation, the Council adopted a common approach with regard to the temporary restriction of non-essential travel as agreed by the Heads of State or Government of the EU on 17 March 2020 and the gradual lifting of such restriction.

In September, the Commission made a proposal for a Council Recommendation on a coordinated approach to the restriction of free movement in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which was adopted on 13 October.

A well-coordinated, predictable and transparent approach to the adoption of restrictions on the freedom of movement of people and goods is necessary to prevent the spread of the virus, safeguard the health of citizens as well as maintain free movement within the Union, under safe conditions. This is important for the millions of citizens who rely on frictionless cross-border travel every day, and crucial for our efforts to start safely re-building the economy.

Press release 22 December 2020 Brussels

 

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