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Coronavirus: EU puts extra travel curbs on 'dark red' zones

January 22, 2021

Non-essential travel is "strongly discouraged" and additional measures have been imposed on COVID-19 hot spots. The EU has become increasingly concerned by the more contagious variants circulating around the continent.

A lone passenger walks through the Train station in Munich
The EU is keen to avoid a repeat of the first wave when several member states unilaterally closed off national bordersImage: Imago Images/R. Peters

Coronavirus hot spots will be known as "dark red" regions within the European Union, and travelers from those areas will be required to take a test before departure, and undergo quarantine upon arrival at their destination, the bloc announced on Thursday.

"A dark red zone would show that in this zone, the virus is circulating at a very high level," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at a briefing after a video summit between EU leaders.

"Persons traveling from dark red areas could be required to do a test before departure, as well as to undergo quarantine after arrival."

Non-essential travel 'strongly discouraged'

Von der Leyen said that with infections rising and new, more contagious mutations of the virus emerging, non-essential travel should be "strongly discouraged" within the bloc but essential workers and goods must be able to cross borders smoothly.

And European Council President Charles Michel said: "In terms of non-essential movements restrictions should be possible to consider."

Both Von der Leyen and Michel warned tougher restrictions on travel could come within days if efforts to curb the spread of the virus fell short.

But the two leaders also said the bloc was keen to avoid a repeat of the height of the first wave, in the spring of 2020, when several member states unilaterally closed off national borders, sparking travel and economic chaos.

"It is absolutely important to keep the single market functioning," von der Leyen said, so that workers and freight can continue to cross borders within the bloc.

The EU is "one epidemiological zone," she said. "We will only contain the virus if we have targeted measures, and not unnecessary measures like a blanket closure of borders, which would severely hurt our economy, but not very much restrict the virus."

Merkel floats border controls

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo had pushed for a complete halt to non-essential travel, such as tourism. "The slightest spark could push the figures back up again. We need to protect our good position," he told broadcaster VRT. After enduring extreme difficulties as the second wave hit, when hospital beds were at a premium, Belgium now has fewer cases per capita than its European neighbors.

In recent weeks, new variants of the coronavirus had appeared through mutations, which are more contagious than the previous pathogen.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had not ruled out the introduction of border controls while France said it was in favor of "health checks" at the EU's internal borders.

Luxembourg, however, has remained steadfast in its opposition to such restrictions.

jsi/rc (AFP, Reuters)