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TRAVELLING TO FRANCE

Europeans urged not to travel as EU Commission proposes ‘dark red zones’ for Covid hot spots

The European Commission has proposed creating new "dark red zones" which would be subject to tight travel restrictions whilst Europeans have been "strongly discouraged" from all but essential travel within the EU as Covid-19 infections rise.

Europeans urged not to travel as EU Commission proposes 'dark red zones' for Covid hot spots
Internal EU border controls were reintroduced during the first wave of the pandemic. AFP

Speaking after an EU council video conference on Thursday, Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen insisted that internal borders must remain open for the single market to function but that members of the public should avoid travel.

“In view of the very serious health situation all non-essential travel should be strongly discouraged within a country and across borders,” she said.

“At the same time it's important to keep the single market functioning. Goods and essential workers must continue to cross borders smoothly. This is of upmost importance.”

The question of imposing restrictions on internal borders to fight the spread of more contagious Covid-19 variants has risen to the fore in recent days, pushed mainly by concerns raised by Germany and France.

Germany had proposed temporary and limited bans on all passenger traffic from non-EU countries if necessary, whilst France on Thursday night announced that anyone entering France by air or sea from within the EU must present a negative Covid-19 test. Hauliers and cross-border workers are exempt.

Border restrictions are a matter for individual member states but France and Germany plus EU officials in Brussels have been pushing for a coordinated response after the travel chaos that occurred during the first wave of the pandemic in spring 2020.

In March as infections soared around Europe several member states panicked and closed off national borders unilaterally, triggering travel chaos.

That decision came to be seen as disastrous, disrupting the already stumbling European economy, and the leaders say they will work hard to find ways to thwart new variants of the virus, while keeping factories and businesses running.

Von der Leyen put forward the proposal of classifying parts of the EU as “dark red zones” where the virus is circulating at a very high level.

“People travelling from dark red zones could be required to do a test before departure, as well as to undergo quarantine after arrival. This is within the European Union,” she said.

The Commission is also proposing additional safety measures for the EU's external borders.

Travel into the EU is heavily restricted but essential trips are allowed. The Commission proposes that all travellers should undergo testing before departure – in reality many EU countries already require this.

The EU Commission can only make recommendations and it is up to the EU council whether to approve them. But given borders are governed at a national level many countries within the EU and Schengen area have already taken action to impose these kind of measures.

Tighter measures needed

The EU disease agency ECDC on Thursday urged countries to prepare more stringent measures and speed up vaccine campaigns in the coming weeks because of the risks of more infectious variants of the novel coronavirus.

The European Centre Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said in a new report that countries in the EU and European Economic Area “should expect increased numbers of Covid-19 cases due to the gradual spread and possible dominance of the variants with increased transmissibility.”

“The key message is to prepare for a rapid escalation of the stringency of response measures in the coming weeks to safeguard healthcare capacity and to accelerate vaccination campaigns,” the agency said.

According to the agency the “rate and scale” of the spread would depend on the level of prevention measures and adherence to those measures.

The ECDC said that some 16,800 cases of a new more infectious variant of the novel coronavirus had been identified in the UK, where it was first discovered, and some 2,000 cases in 60 countries around the world as of Tuesday, of which 1,300 cases were in 23 countries in the EU and EEA area.

Around 570 cases of another variant, also more infectious, first discovered in South Africa have been detected in 23 countries, with 27 cases in 10 EU/EEA countries, in addition to the 349 cases confirmed in South Africa as of January 13th.

The ECDC also urged members to monitor changes in transmission rates or infection severity to identify and assess the circulation and impact of variants, and also to prepare laboratories for increased testing.
  

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COVID-19 RULES

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now

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