The European Commission has recommended that seafarers be exempt from new travel restrictions introduced by EU states in response to the emergence of a variant strain of COVID-19 in the UK.
The Commission adopted a Recommendation on a coordinated approach to travel and transport measures, on 22 December. This follows the introduction of travel bans on people coming from the UK by a number of states, after a spike in cases linked to the new variant of the virus.
The recommendation builds on the Council Recommendation of 13 October on a coordinated approach to free movement in response to the COVID19-pandemic and several other guidance documents adopted by the Commission in the past months, in particular the Green Lanes Communication.
While precautions are needed to contain the spread of the new coronavirus variant, with today’s Recommendation, we therefore ensure that the restrictions are coordinated and provide for the necessary exemptions for citizens and residents returning home and other essential travellers,
…explained Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders.
More specifically, the Commission recommends to Member States that:
- They should implement the principles of the October Council Recommendation on coordinating free movement restrictions. In the light of the precautionary principle, all non-essential travel to and from the UK should be discouraged until further notice.
- However, Union citizens and UK citizens travelling to their Member State or country of residence as well as third-country nationals that enjoy EU free movement rights should be exempted from further temporary restrictions provided that they undergo a test or quarantine.
- Travellers with an essential function, for instance medical staff, should be required to undergo a test (RT-PCR test or a rapid antigen test within 72 hours prior to departure), but should not be required to undergo quarantine while exercising this essential function.
- Transport staff, within the EU, should be exempted from any travel ban across any border and from testing and quarantine requirements when they are travelling across a border to and from a vessel, vehicle, or aircraft. Where a Member State, in the specific context of the situation between the EU and the UK and in the coming days, requires rapid antigen tests for transport workers, this should not lead to transport disruptions.
- Transit of passengers, especially for essential travel, should be facilitated without quarantine. A test can be required, but authorities need to inform about such requirement in advance or offer testing during the journey.
- Given the need to ensure essential travel and transit home as described in the recommendation, any prohibition of transport services, such as flight or train bans, should be discontinued.
- Cargo flows need to continue uninterrupted, in accordance with the Green Lanes and the Air Cargo Communication, not least to ensure the timely distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, for example.
- The public health authorities of the Member States should increase sequencing efforts and analyse virus isolates in a timely manner to swiftly identify cases of the new variant. They should also immediately identify cases involving persons who travelled to or from the UK in the past 14 days or who are close contacts of confirmed cases in order to ensure the appropriate follow up (eg. RT-PCR testing, isolation, enhanced contact tracing).
Until the end of December, free movement rules still apply to the UK. This means that Member States should not in principle refuse the entry of persons travelling from the UK.
As of 1 January 2021, the UK will become a third country and Member States shall start applying the Recommendation on the temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU to persons travelling from the UK, in view of the end of the transition period.