New restrictive measures to limit non-essential travel within the Union. Introduction of mandatory tests on departure and quarantine on arrival for those traveling from high-risk areas identified with a new color, dark red. These are the choices made late in the evening by the heads of state and government at the end of their ninth video summit dedicated to Covid. A meeting convened by the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, to counter the spread of the new variants of the virus, explained Ursula von der Leyen, “worry us a lot: the situation is serious.”
A few minutes after the start of the EU summit, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) indicated an increase in infections is expected with the variants. That can lead to an increasing number of hospitalizations and deaths in all age groups, especially the older ones. There is also a fear that some mutations could damage the vaccine. Also, for this reason, the EU leaders decided to accelerate the immunization process and to increase the genomic sequencing capacity of tests to monitor strains.
In this context, it is not surprising that new generalized lockdowns have been speculated during the summit. “We must maintain or strengthen the restrictive measures,” said Michel. To avoid a harmful shattering of Schengen, the leaders have pledged to keep internal borders open but they have decided to discourage non-essential travel: those for work and the movement of goods will remain possible. Europeans are also preparing to further secure the Union’s external borders. The Netherlands has already closed flights from 17 non-EU countries, such as the United Kingdom and South Africa.
At the push of Merkel and Macron, the leaders have introduced dark red areas in the virus map from which swab and quarantine will be mandatory. The green light for the mutual recognition of rapid tests between European partners has arrived, a prerequisite for any general medical checkpoints at internal borders. The hypothesis of vaccine passports to circulate skipping the checks is premature, supported by the southern countries with a tourist vocation and rejected by the Nordic for legal, scientific, and political. For now, Europe thinks to adopt a vaccination certificate for medical purposes only, which, however, in the future, perhaps in the summer, could be transformed into a travel document.
In the evening, France announced that starting from Sunday at midnight all travelers arriving from other European Union countries must have the certificate of a negative molecular swab carried out 72 hours before the arrival in the country. The tampon will be mandatory for all non-essential journeys. Cross-border workers and land transport workers remain exempt from the obligation.