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Coordination of COVID-19 travel restrictions between Member States


Airlines for Europe (A4E) welcomes the renewed efforts of the European Commission (proposed Council Recommendation from 04.09 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) and the initiative from the German Presidency of the Council of the European Union to improve coordination on cross-border travel and restore the integrity of the EU / Schengen area. This is a critical step for the re-establishment of air services of European airlines and the economic recovery.

Over the last six months, an increasing number of uncoordinated national measures have not only impacted the freedom of movement in the EU but also had significant knock-on effects on the European travel and tourism sector. Member States adopted diverging measures, often implemented at very short notice, based on different criteria, and not sufficiently coordinated with other Member States.

While some Europeans were keen to take a plane to enjoy their summer holidays or travel for business, the chaotic border restrictions along with confusion about quarantines, passenger registrations and test requirements have led citizens and businesses across Europe to decide not to fly. As a result, although July saw a small recovery in the number of flights and passenger traffic, these figures have stalled in August – with only 30% of 2019 travellers accounted for.

This issue should be a political priority for the Council of the EU. A4E has consistently called for a common European approach to travel restrictions providing EU citizens, airlines and their passengers clarity, predictability, and confidence in our air transport system. Such an approach should rely on:

Common criteria and thresholds to evaluate the epidemiological risk of travelling to/from a certain area: 

– Member States should use common criteria, such as the incidence rate (positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants) and the test positivity rate of tests for COVID-19 infection.

– These key indicators should be agreed upon by the Member States and made publicly available by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). Indicators should be evaluated on a 14-day basis rather than a shorter period, allowing travel operators to identify trends and plan capacities accordingly.

A European colour-coded map, updated weekly and based on ECDC figures. As per the Commission’s proposal, restrictions to free movement should be lifted when an area is classified as ‘orange’ or ‘green’ – this classification should be recognised throughout the EU.

A detailed regional analysis, based on ECDC figures, to avoid blanket quarantine measures/bans on travel to/from entire countries.

– This would allow measures to be implemented at the regional level, therefore reflecting more closely the level of risk. Quarantines should be targeted towards high risk areas only rather than countrywide.

– Islands and island regions should be treated on an individual basis wherever possible, in order to avoid unnecessary economic detriment. Particularly for holiday regions that rely on tourism as a main source of income and employment, such as the Spanish and Greek island groups, an assessment on a per island basis is needed. Cross-border regions should be treated equally, reflecting the local circumstances.

A broad policy of COVID-19 testing and tracing to avoid quarantine or movement restrictions when possible. Testing capabilities are critical to the management of the pandemic, especially where mobility is an essential contribution to the economy – therefore, A4E calls on Member States to continue to invest in making quick and reliable COVID-19 tests available.

– Quarantine or movement restrictions must remain an instrument of last resort. Quarantine duration should be unified throughout Europe for consistency.

– Testing should be the risk mitigation measure of choice, as it allows to implementation of risk mitigation measures on an individual level. Therefore, tests are a targeted and effective solution. Member states should implement this risk mitigation strategy, as new testing methods become available in the near future (e.g. antigen tests).

– Restoring traveller confidence: Mass deployment of affordable quick tests shortly before departure – potentially at the departure airport – has the potential to restore European travel to a large extent by minimizing risks and giving confidence to travellers. An effective testing programme would be valuable in reducing the period of self-isolation and would boost passengers’ confidence, knowing they would potentially not need to quarantine if they arrived from high risk regions.

A clear exclusion from travel restrictions and quarantine measures for:

– Crew and airline staff – who are trained to reduce risk, follow specific hygiene schemes and are under close supervision of European airlines.

– Business travellers – when they stay in a risk area for less than 72 hours, as they are risk-aware and have minimal contact with the local population.

– Passengers in transit.

A clear and simple process to issue travel restrictions when needed, e.g. following the Commission’s proposal, announcing them on a Thursday for publication for implementation as of the following Monday. This would allow time both for travellers and businesses to make the necessary arrangements. This would also enable EUROCONTROL to provide accurate NOTAMs (Notice to Airmen) to airlines and prevent passengers being wrongly refused the right to fly.

Standardised Passenger Locator Forms and Health Declaration Cards: Member States should adopt the latest ICAO standard for these 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.

The interoperability of EU contact tracing apps: active coordination must continue on this front, in line with the Commission’s guidelines Interoperability guidelines for approved contact tracing mobile applications in the EU, 13.05.2020 on this topic.

Finally, European airlines also encourage the EU and Member States to actively seek to re-establish travel to third countries or specific regions within those countries:

– As for intra-EU travel, a similar approach should be set up to assess the risk and establish risk-mitigation measures regarding third countries. The criteria and thresholds of the EU White List should be revised on the basis of what is agreed for intra-EU travel, in order to streamline border restrictions, and testing requirements (and quarantines if necessary) at the EU external border.

– If adopted, bilateral agreements with third countries – especially on routes for which there is a high demand for travel – should include conditions such as the adherence to specific health protocols, testing requirements, or the use of direct flights. Again, blanket quarantines should remain a measure of last resort.