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Is the EU likely to reinstate Covid travel restrictions?

A meeting is scheduled for Wednesday in Brussels to discuss the latest Covid situation in China - so could this mark the return of vaccine passports and travel restrictions?

Is the EU likely to reinstate Covid travel restrictions?
COVID-19 preventive measures information document provided to the passengers of a flight from China at the Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle airport in Roissy, outside Paris, on January 1, 2023, as France reinforces health measures at the borders for travellers arriving from China. Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP

Several EU countries including France, Italy and Spain (as well as non-EU countries including the UK and USA) have already imposed travel restrictions on arrivals from China, over fears of new variants of Covid-19.

The countries announced their restrictions – mostly amounting to compulsory tests and masks – on a unilateral basis at the end of last week, but there have been calls for greater co-ordination at an EU level.

There is now a meeting scheduled for Wednesday of the EU Integrated Policy Response Capability to discuss coordinating measures, with an insider telling Politico: “The idea is to harmonise, but without being extremely prescriptive.”

The meeting has been called by Sweden, which now holds the rotating presidency of the EU. 

So what measures are likely?

At present the countries that have announced restrictions have only imposed testing and mask rules – there is no requirement to show proof of vaccination and no travel bans. All measures only apply only to travellers from China.

A meeting of the European Health Safety Committee last Thursday did not produce any concrete measures, with EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides merely urging member states to coordinate quickly. It was after this that some countries announced their own restrictions.

If anything more concrete comes out of Wednesday’s meeting, it is likely to refer to testing or mask rules only and like the previous EU Covid travel policies, will be advisory for countries to follow.

Because borders are a national competence, countries can impose their own measures without having to consult the EU.

Despite the introduction of the EU digital vaccine passport, countries never managed to entirely co-ordinate their travel rules during 2020 and 2021.

In most EU countries the health pass or vaccine pass apps remain active, and could be used again if necessary. 

Will there be travel bans?

At this stage more draconian restrictions – such as the ‘red lists’ or ‘essential travel only’ rules of 2021 seem unlikely.

Most EU countries have a high level of vaccine cover, so would probably only resort to travel restrictions if new variants – against which current Covid vaccines are not effective – emergence in China (or any other country).  

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TRAVEL NEWS

Unscheduled stop: Baby born aboard high-speed train in France

Travellers on a high-speed rail service train in France experienced an unusual delay at a station at the weekend -- while a fellow passenger gave birth to a baby boy, local media reported.

Unscheduled stop: Baby born aboard high-speed train in France

The pregnant woman began to feel contractions shortly after taking her seat on the Paris-Strasbourg train, run by German rail operator Deutsche Bahn.

She alerted staff and the train was held at the Lorraine TGV station in the eastern French town of Louvigny to allow a medical team on board which then delivered the baby, the Republicain Lorrain said.

The other passengers were asked for patience during the birth of the baby boy, Felix, which took just over 80 minutes.

Felix was “a little premature”, the paper noted.

Mother and baby were taken to a nearby hospital by the local firefighter service, which reported later that both were doing well.

The Republicain Lorrain said that everybody was now wondering whether the German rail operator would send a birth gift, or grant its youngest passenger free trips on the network.

French public transport services have a history of providing such gifts. In 2018, after a baby was born on an RER Train in Paris, the child was offered a free Navigo pass until his 25th birthday.

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