In mid-May, the Brussels-based European Commission issued a comprehensive questions and answers document detailing how it expects to see tourism and transport evolve in EU countries post COVID-19. Additionally, the briefing included recommendations on how to gradually lift restrictions, reopen businesses and facilitate travel. The latter point will be of particular interest to citizens and new arrivals looking to benefit from travel opportunities, whether for business, family or leisure reasons.
Below, we discuss the contents of the May 2020 EU tourism and transport brief. Read on for more on how the guidance affects people travelling to and within Europe, with or without a visa.
Restoring Free Movement
After the lengthy lockdown, quarantine measures and closed borders of the spring months, the EU is keen to see domestic travel reinstated as soon as epidemiological considerations permit. However, the viability of travelling in Europe looks set to depend on the situation in each destination state. For this reason, a gradual easing of restrictions looks likely, with controls lifted progressively between EC countries that find themselves at similar stages.
With the above points in mind, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDPC) intends to maintain an epidemiological map which the Commission will use to set and review policy. It is keen to establish, wherever feasible, a bloc of countries with comparable health situations where the same or similar treatment applies to travellers. Thus, the lifting of restrictions can apply uniformly to EU citizens and residents of the member states concerned – regardless of individuals' nationalities. In their deliberations, members of the Commission have made it known that they also intend to consider social and economic factors.
Nonetheless, officials have emphasised the need to continue applying containment measures including hygiene and social distancing throughout whole journeys, be they by land, air or sea. Not least, these safety precautions will also apply at EU border controls and crossings in all member countries including those within the Schengen area – also known as the European visa area – as well as Schengen-associated states. Significantly, officials also mentioned the possibility of linking the West Balkans region with the implementation of the joint roadmap to the progressive relief of public health safety measures in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the brief detailed, phase one of the EU plan saw a gradual lift in border restrictions, with a smooth transition to allow travel for professional and personal reasons including some tourism. Next, progression to phase two envisages a further de-escalation of restrictions and a more significant lifting of controls at internal borders. Travel should again be possible throughout the European bloc for all purposes, while still retaining essential health and hygiene recommendations.
Usefully, the EU expects member states to publicise current levels of safety alerts and travel restrictions through regularly-updated communication channels. Thus, potential visitors can access up-to-date information regarding the current health situation in every European country. Individuals travelling between countries will be individually responsible for following health recommendations. In the interests of transparency, the EC intends to continue to update its websites with a list of internal border controls, details of local protocols and other relevant information.
Meanwhile, the restoration of safe transport depends on protecting employees and passengers. Accordingly, EU recommendations include:
- Encouraging online check-in for flight and ferry crossing passengers as much as possible, thus reducing queues inside airport and sea terminal buildings.
- Deploying effective physical protection by means of barriers and other equipment.
- Physical distancing at luggage drop off points, during security checks and near baggage collection carousels.
- Obliging passengers to wear face coverings when it is not possible to observe distancing recommendations adequately.
- Allocating sufficient space on trains, buses and ferries so that passengers who do not live in the same household can sit apart, i.e. with sufficient distance to reduce possible transmission of viruses.
- Continuing to make hand-sanitising gel and disinfectant products available for hygiene and protection.
- Improved ventilation in passenger accommodation.
- Regular cleaning of passenger vehicles, aircraft and sea vessels.
Monitoring Airport Safety
Finally, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency has published a global list of airports with enhanced aircraft disinfection facilities. Although a disclaimer states that the EASA list of airports does not reflect travel restrictions or public health quarantine requirements, it does represent an extra layer of protection for passengers and aircrew.
Significantly, the organisation compiled the listing based on information received from EASA member countries, the World Health Organisation and the ECDPC. Factors considered also include the numbers of active and recovered cases, tests per inhabitants and fatalities, the size of each airport and the area or population it serves.