TALLINN - The European Commission on Wednesday invited Schengen member states and Schengen-associated states to prolong the temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU until May 15.
The experience of member states and other countries exposed to the pandemic shows the measures applied to fight the spread of the virus require more than 30 days to be effective. The Commission calls for a coordinated approach to the prolongation, as action at the external borders can only be effective if implemented by all EU and Schengen states at all borders, with the same end date and in a uniform manner, the European Commission said in a press release.
The travel restriction, as well as the invitation to extend it, applies to the EU+ area, which includes all Schengen member states, including Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania, and the four Schengen-associated states, that is Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland -- 30 countries in total.
"All member states have successfully implemented social distancing measures to limit social interaction and slow down the spread of the virus. The restriction on non-essential travel from third counties to the EU complements these measures at the EU's external borders. While we can see encouraging first results, prolonging the travel restriction is necessary to continue reducing the risks of the disease spreading further. We should not yet let the door open whilst we are securing our house," Margaritis Schinas, vice president for promoting the European way of life, said.
"The current situation compels us to call for a prolongation of the restriction on non-essential travel to the EU. While coordinated action is key at the external borders, we also need to work together at the internal borders to make sure our internal market continues to function properly, and that vital products such as food, medicines and protective equipment can reach their destination without delay. We will continue assisting member states in all these strands of work," Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson added.
The Commission's assessment of the current situation points to a continued rise in the number of new cases and deaths across the EU, as well as to the progression of the pandemic outside of the EU, including in countries from where millions of people usually travel to the EU every year. In this context, prolonging the travel restriction is necessary to reduce the risk of the disease spreading further.
The risk of increasing community transmission is assessed by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) to be moderate if mitigation measures are in place and very high if insufficient mitigation measures are in place, while the risk that the capacity of health and social care systems will be exceeded in the coming weeks is assessed as high, even with mitigation measures in place.
Since the implementation of the travel restriction in the second half of March, air passenger traffic has been almost reduced to zero, with the remaining flights are being mainly limited to cargo transport and repatriation. A similar trend of passenger traffic can be seen in other modes of transport, such as in ferry, coach and rail transport.
The Commission will continue to assist member states in implementing the restriction on non-essential travel to the EU, including through regular discussions in video conference meetings with interior ministers.
Any further prolongation of the travel restriction beyond May 15 would need to be assessed again, based on the evolution of the epidemiological situation.
Parallel and coordinated action at external borders will be an essential aspect of a concerted EU exit strategy and the gradual lifting of the containment measures in Europe.
The Commission invited heads of state or government on March 16 to introduce a temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU for an initial period of 30 days. Leaders endorsed this call on March 17, and all EU member states, except Ireland, and non-EU Schengen countries have since then taken national decisions to implement this travel restriction.
The travel restriction does not apply to EU citizens, citizens of non-EU Schengen countries and their family members, and non-EU nationals who are long-term residents in the EU for the purpose of returning home. In addition, to limit to the minimum the impact of the restriction on the functioning of our societies, member states should not apply the restrictions to specific categories of travelers with an essential function or need. Essential staff, such as doctors, nurses, health care workers, researchers and experts helping to cope with the coronavirus, as well as persons carrying goods, frontier workers and seasonal agricultural workers, should also continue to be allowed to enter the EU.
To assist member states, the Commission on March 30 presented guidance on how to implement the temporary travel restriction, facilitate repatriations from across the world, and deal with those compelled to stay in the EU longer than they are authorized to as a result of travel restrictions.