Although the primary reason for the introduction of the new European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) is to strengthen security across Europe it will also play a role in protecting the health and well-being of European citizens. ETIAS is essentially a screening process which will compile background information pertaining to travellers from various countries outside the European zone and assess whether these people pose either a security or health risk to Europe. Should an applicant be deemed either a security or health risk then the ETIAS will be denied and that person will not be allowed to travel to any European Union or Schengen country. While the security aspect of ETIAS remains the primary concern the recent outbreak of coronavirus across the globe has put more emphasis on potential health risks and the ETIAS application form now reflects this.
New Health Checks
Even before the outbreak of Covid-19 the ETIAS application process had already taken account of the possible risk of non-EU citizens entering Europe while carrying contagious diseases. Applicants had to declare whether they have (or had) serious transmittable diseases such as:
- Hepatitis A or B
These are just a few of many serious and contagious diseases, the presence of which must be stated on an ETIAS application form. Covid-19 has demonstrated how badly affected a country or region can be by one infectious disease and ETIAS is now being viewed as a practical method of reducing the chances of other serious illnesses entering and spreading through Europe. Although the application form may not name specific diseases the applicant will be asked to supply details regarding past history of serious parasitic, transmittable or contagious diseases.
Covid-19 was a Game Changer
Covid-19 first appeared towards the end of 2019 and began to take a hold in Europe early in 2020. Since then, countries (not just in Europe but around the world) have been fighting a seemingly losing battle to stop the spread of the virus and eventually conquer it. To this end the European Commission submitted, in November 2020, a number of proposals for health policy improvements across the EU. These improvements, it is hoped, will help in the battle against coronavirus and any future similar public health emergencies.
More cooperation and speedier coordination between the various European health agencies is viewed as crucial to the success of minimising the effects of cross-border health threats. To aid in this, health information supplied on ETIAS application forms will be forwarded to key EU health and security authorities including:
- The European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC)
- The European Medicines Agency (EMA)
- FRONTEX (European Border and Coast Guard Agency)
Using the stored health and medical information, and with the various European health agencies working in tandem, it is hoped to establish a health and security framework that will ensure a greater state of readiness and more effective countermeasures for any future health emergencies.
Stronger European Health Laws
Medical and health data collected from ETIAS applications will play an important role in strengthening European laws as this information will provide health agencies with valuable details concerning possible future risks. Using medical data from ETIAS applicants, and other national and international sources such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), European health agencies hope to be able to identify possible health threats, predict the likely extent of an outbreak and take immediate countermeasures.
To better protect against, and react to, future emergencies such as that currently being experienced with Covid-19 the EU is considering changes to existing health laws as well as:
A state-of-the-art, integrated surveillance system across the European Union to combat illegal entry.
Increased and improved reporting of data from EU member states providing information regarding availability of trained medical staff, number of hospital beds, intensive care capacity and specialised treatment available.
Better and faster coordination regarding the development, procurement and storage of medical supplies and vaccines.
The Covid-19 crisis has also underlined the importance of vigilance and highlighted the need for:
- Readiness and a planned response
- Monitoring the incidence, distribution and control of worldwide disease outbreaks
- A European network of reference laboratories
- Swift deployment of specialised health task forces to localised outbreaks
The precise nature of these measures will depend ultimately on the data made available to EU health agencies and a considerable percentage of this information will come from ETIAS application forms.
ETIAS Health Questions
The health questions mainly pertain to serious infectious, contagious, parasitic and transmittable diseases which may pose a threat to the health of EU citizens. When completing the health section of the ETIAS application form an applicant will be expected to answer all questions fully and truthfully. The application will be checked against a central security database for any possible security risks and also through available medical databases.
Although the medical history of an applicant from a country outside the European zone may not be easily available it is possible in many cases to check the information supplied with the applicant's home country or country of residence. Providing false or misleading information on the form may not be detected but there is a strong likelihood that it will and this will result in the ETIAS being denied. Lying on the form could also cause future problems if the applicant should require medical attention while visiting Europe or if specific medications are required to treat the illness.
Omitting information, or lying about an existing condition, could also be problematic if an applicant wishes to apply for travel insurance. Although this is not currently mandatory for ETIAS approved visitors to Europe this could easily change in the future and discrepancies between the ETIAS application form and the medical insurance documentation will quickly be spotted.
A Weapon Against Future Pandemics
If ETIAS had been implemented a year or two ago it would have been of great assistance in halting the spread of Covid-19 as EU member states would have been aware of a visitor's country of origin and whether or not that country was deemed to be a high health risk. Although it is too late now for the coronavirus pandemic future ETIAS approval requirements will be hugely beneficial should a similar scenario occur in the future.
While ETIAS cannot totally guarantee the state of a person's health it can certainly be a weapon against the spread of a pandemic like Covid-19. Areas of high infection can be identified and visitors from those areas denied ETIAS approval until the situation improves. This would considerably reduce the chances of new infectious cases arriving in the EU and help contain the virus within known regions or countries.