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A4E Issues “Last Call” for Common EU Approach to COVID-19 Travel Restrictions

  • Adoption of common criteria and thresholds to evaluate the epidemiological risk of travel;
  • Adherence to a European colour-coded map updated weekly and based on ECDC figures;
  • Individual COVID-19 testing and tracing measures instead of quarantines;
  • Clear exclusions from travel restrictions and quarantines for low-risk travellers, transit passengers, airline staff and crew.

Airlines for Europe (A4E), Europe’s largest airline association, today urged EU leaders to swiftly adopt a renewed and common approach towards COVID-19 travel restrictions to better support the aviation sector and boost Europe’s wider economic recovery. The proposal European Commission’s Proposal for a COUNCIL RECOMMENDATION on a coordinated approach to the restriction of free movement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, 4th September 2020 backs the recent European Commission (EC) Council Recommendation1 and the initiative of the German EU Presidency calling for the creation of a European colour-coded map, based on data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). It urges the adoption of common criteria and thresholds to evaluate the epidemiological risk of travelling to/from certain areas, such as the incidence rate (positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants) and the positivity rate of tests for COVID-19 infection. It also calls for measures to be implemented at a regional level, based on ECDC data, instead of blanket national restrictions.

Improved COVID-19 testing and tracing measures

Improved COVID-19 testing and contact tracing should be used instead of quarantines, as testing enables targeted risk mitigation on an individual level. Member States should continue to invest in making quick and reliable COVID-19 tests available to passengers shortly before departure. “Europeans have not been able to properly enjoy a well-deserved summer break due to chaotic border restrictions along with confusion about quarantines, varying passenger locator forms and test requirements. A unified European testing programme is urgently needed if we are to have any chance of restoring passenger confidence”, said Thomas Reynaert, Managing Director, A4E. Although July saw a small increase in the number of flights and passenger traffic, these figures have stalled in August — with only 30% of travellers compared with last year. “The Council of the EU must make this a political priority. Uncoordinated national measures over the last six months have had a devastating impact on freedom of movement — a core EU principle — with significant knock-on effects for our travel and tourism sector”, said Benjamin Smith, CEO of Air France-KLM Group and A4E Chairman.

“Diverging measures by Member States — often implemented at very short notice, based on differing criteria, and not sufficiently coordinated with other States has caused passenger demand to plummet. A renewed and common approach to travel restrictions, as outlined in our proposal, would provide airlines and our passengers the clarity and predictability we need while improving cross-border connectivity and restoring the integrity of the Schengen/EU area. Member States should urgently also apply common criteria to third countries so that intercontinental traffic can resume as quickly and as safely as possible”, Smith added.

Clear exclusions from travel restrictions and quarantines

Quarantine restrictions should be an instrument of last resort, with the duration of quarantine consistent throughout Europe. Clear exclusions from travel restrictions and quarantine measures for airline staff, crew, transit passengers and passengers with a specific low-risk type of journey are also recommended. Airline staff, including crew, are trained to follow specific hygiene schemes and are under the close supervision of European airlines. Travellers who, for example, stay in a risk area for less than 72 hours and have minimal contact with the local population are at a lower risk of infection and should therefore also be excluded. In all cases, Member States should be responsible for collecting traveller data and for enforcing the appropriate measures.

Standardised Passenger Locator Forms and Health Declaration Cards

Finally, Member States should also adopt the latest ICAO standard for passenger locator and health declaration forms. It should be the responsibility of national health authorities to check whether passengers have completed these forms, not airlines. Member States should refrain from imposing fines on airlines if all the data has not been filled out by the passengers. In addition, Passenger Locator Forms and Health Declaration Cards should be made available in a digital format.