Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 29 October 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus: EU to adopt ‘traffic light’ system for travel guidance

European regions will be sorted into green, orange and red zones to show Covid-19 risk

Tourists walk at the Brandenburg Gate on October 12, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. Getty Images
Tourists walk at the Brandenburg Gate on October 12, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. Getty Images

The EU will set up a “traffic light” system for movement within the 27-member bloc to give clear guidance on the risk to travellers from the coronavirus.

Since the coronavirus hit Europe in March, killing in subsequent months 151,000 EU citizens and devastating the continent’s economy, movement throughout the 27-member bloc has been severely disrupted.

A return to some semblance of freedom of movement has been an ambition of EU head Ursula von der Leyen since, at the start of the pandemic, member states started unilaterally putting up barriers.

Among the harshest criticisms levelled against Brussels about its response to the pandemic was its failure to preserve freedom of movement.

“We have to co-ordinate these measures to make life easier for Europeans, the clearer the rules are, the better citizens can deal with them,” Ms Von der Leyen saidon Monday.

“Our proposal will bring a common colour code based on common criteria.”

The new system will define all regions in the EU based on the level of risk: red, for the highest danger areas with orange and green for medium and low-risk areas, respectively.

Under the latest proposal, red zones should be areas where Covid-19 cases are more than 50 per 100,000 people during a 14-day period and the proportion of positive tests reaches at least 4 per cent. Regions with a lower positive rate but where the total number of cases is more than 150 per 100,000 will also be classified red.

In light of the very high level of infections across the continent, it means that most of the bloc should be classified red or orange.

These colours will be reflected on a single map for all of the EU, which will change online as case levels rise and fall.

The German Red Cross symbol sits on a reception desk at a Covid-19 test centre for coach passengers arriving in Berlin, Germany. Bloomberg
The German Red Cross symbol sits on a reception desk at a Covid-19 test centre for coach passengers arriving in Berlin, Germany. Bloomberg

The commission has recommended mandatory testing for travellers from the most dangerous zones but is unable to impose such a measure because health and border issues remain the prerogative of national governments.

The final aim was to create a way for EU states not to close their borders to one another, a goal that Ms Von der Leyen has not strictly been able to deliver.

“There will be no restrictions if you're travelling from the green region. When travelling from an orange or red region, national governments may ask you to get tested or undergo quarantine,” the EU commission head said.

Europe’s second wave of coronavirus infections has struck well before flu season even started, with intensive care wards filling up again and bars shutting down. Making matters worse, authorities say, is a widespread case of “Covid fatigue”.

Record high daily infections in several eastern European countries and sharp rebounds in the hard-hit west have made clear that Europe never really crushed the Covid-19 curve as hoped, after springtime lockdowns.

A priest wears a face mask as local authorities in the Italian capital Rome order face coverings to be worn at all times out of doors in an effort to counter rising coronavirus disease (Covid-19) infections, in Rome Italy October 12, 2020. Reuters
A priest wears a face mask as local authorities in the Italian capital Rome order face coverings to be worn at all times out of doors in an effort to counter rising coronavirus disease (Covid-19) infections, in Rome Italy October 12, 2020. Reuters

Spain this week declared a state of emergency for Madrid amid increasing tensions between local and national authorities over virus containment measures.

In Germany, authorities offered soldiers to help with contact tracing in new hot spots, while schools are advising pupils to bring warm hats and scarves to classes, as well as coats and even blankets, to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The Telegraph newspaper reported heads in Germany had issued the guidance after teachers were required to ventilate their classrooms throughout the day despite temperatures falling as low as 5°C.

Italy has made wearing masks mandatory outdoors and said that for the first time since the country became the European centre of the pandemic, the health system was facing “significant critical issues” as hospitals fill up.

Ms Von der Leyen announced the changes to travel plans at the start of the EU’s Week of Regions and Cities debate and the publishing of the bloc’s annual local and regional barometer.

The 2020 report painted a stark picture for local officials in the face of the pandemic, warning that coronavirus presents the dual risks of exploding health costs and dwindling resources as the second Covid-19 wave descends on the continent.

For example, the fall in revenues in 2020 of subnational authorities in France, Germany and Italy alone is estimated to be in the order of €30 billion ($35.42bn), the barometer said.

More than 90 per cent of EU regions and municipalities expect a fall in revenues, it said.

“We believe that cities and regions should be included in the design of the national recovery plans from the start,” Ms Von der Leyen said.

“Local administrations will fill European projects with life on the ground. You therefore bear a great responsibility,” the former German cabinet minister said, addressing local leaders.

Updated: October 12, 2020 09:36 PM

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