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EU leaders consider tougher border rules to curb COVID-19

2 Mins read

European Union (EU) leaders have discouraged Europeans from non-essential travel, warning that tougher restrictions on trips could come within days if efforts to curb the COVID-19 pandemic fell short.

EU chiefs, Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel issued the warning after a four-hour summit by video link with the heads of government of the 27-nation bloc focused on responding to the second wave of the pandemic.

The tone of urgency was fuelled by fears over the spread of highly contagious coronavirus variants that could send already high infection rates skyrocketing and strain hospitals, as is happening in former EU member Britain.

“All non-essential travel should be strongly discouraged both within the country and of course across borders,” von der Leyen, head of the European Commission, told a media conference.

Michel, president of the European Council said, “It will be probably necessary to take additional restrictive measures in order to limit the non-essential travels and that is the orientation that we are taking.”

Both added that further coordination on that issue would be made in “the next days”.

But both also said the EU wanted to avoid a repeat of the height of the first wave, in March last year, when several member states panicked and closed off national borders unilaterally, triggering 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.

The European Union 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.”

But to avoid closing the intra-EU borders in the passport-free Schengen zone, testing needs to be stepped up, leaders agreed.

From Sunday, anybody arriving from outside the EU, possible only for those with essential reasons, could have to have a test for Covid-19 before departure, von der Leyen said.

Within the EU, some countries will apply prior testing for cross-border trips that do not come under essential categories such as workers and truck drivers.

From Sunday France will require a negative PCR test 72 hours before departure for most European arrivals other than those on essential travel, President Emmanuel Macron told the European Council, according to his office.

A statement from Macron’s office said “some of his European counterparts” have also chosen this approach.

AFP

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