Coronavirus: EU changes policy on containing the spread of the virus
Tuesday, 17 March 2020
The European Commission announced yesterday that it will decide on a temporary restriction on non-essential travel from non-EU countries to the EU. The restriction should be in place for an initial period of 30 days, which can be prolonged as necessary, President von der Leyen said in a video-message.
A coordinated decision will be taken today afternoon at a video-conference by the European Council and will have to be implemented on national level by the member states.
The Commission issued also guidelines on border measures to protect people from the spread of the virus, and at the same time, to make sure that the flow of goods over internal EU borders is ensured.
Many member states have already imposed border controls and health checks at their borders without waiting for the guidelines. It is not clear to what extent their measures comply with guidelines.
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, the Commission has been reluctant to recommend travel restrictions and border controls but the current situation, where the healthcare systems in all member states are under pressure, did not leave it much choice. “Member States have taken strong measures to slow down the spread of the virus. But these measures are effective only when they are coordinated.”
At yesterday’s press briefing, the chief spokesperson of the Commission recognized that the member states had been forced to act to protect the health of their citizens. The Commission has lost time but is now focussing on what is absolutely necessary to do to manage a severe situation, which is still evolving and can become worse.
The guidelines set out principles for what the Commission calls an integrated approach to an effective border management to protect health while preserving the integrity of the internal market. The guidelines are not binding and mostly written in the form of recommendations. The Brussels Times has asked the Commission for a clarification of the guidelines at today’s press briefing.
The implementation of the guidelines should be governed by the principle of solidarity between the Member States, according to the Commission. The guidelines distinguish between EU’s external borders the and internal borders between member states and describes how health checks at the borders should be carried.
Member States have the possibility to refuse entry to non-resident third country nationals where they present relevant symptoms or have been particularly exposed to risk of infection and are considered to be a threat to public health.
They must always admit their own citizens and residents, and facilitate transit of other EU citizens and residents that are returning home.
In particular, non-discrimination between Member States’ own nationals and resident EU-citizens must be ensured. A Member State must not deny entry to EU citizens or third-country nationals residing on its territory and must facilitate transit of other EU citizens and residents that are returning home.
According to the guidelines, people identified as at risk of spreading COVID-19 should have access to appropriate health care, either in the country of arrival or in the country of departure, and this should be coordinated between the two countries.
Free circulation of goods is also crucial to maintain availability of goods. This is particularly crucial for essential goods such as food supplies including livestock, vital medical and protective equipment and supplies. More generally, control measures should not cause serious disruption of supply chains, essential services of general interest and of national economies and the EU economy as a whole.