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Questions & Answers on the latest update regarding the coordination of COVID-related measures restricting free movement in the European Union

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op dinsdag 15 juni 2021.

Why was the Recommendation adopted in the first place?

To limit the spread of the coronavirus outbreak in the course of 2020, the EU's 27 Member States have adopted various measures, some of which have had an impact on citizens' right to move freely across the European Union, such as requirements to undergo quarantine or coronavirus test.

While the measures are intended to safeguard the health and wellbeing of citizens, they have serious consequences for the economy and citizens' rights. The right of European citizens to move and reside freely within the European Union is one of the most cherished achievements of the European Union, as well as an important driver of our economy.

A well-coordinated, predictable and transparent approach to the adoption of restrictions on freedom of movement is necessary to safeguard the health of citizens as well as maintain free movement within the EU, under safe conditions. This is important for the millions of citizens who rely on cross-border travel every day, and crucial for our efforts to safely re-build the economy.

For this purpose, in October 2020, the Member States adopted a Council Recommendation on the coordination of free movement restrictions in the EU.

The Council Recommendation established a common approach on the following key points: the application of common criteria when deciding whether to introduce restrictions to free movement; a mapping of the risk of COVID-19 transmission, published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), based on an agreed colour code; and a coordinated approach as to the measures, if any, which could be applied to persons moving between different areas.

Why did the Commission propose to update the Recommendation?

As the epidemiological situation is improving and vaccination campaigns are speeding up all over the EU, the Commission proposed to update the Council Recommendation on the coordination of free movement restrictions in the EU. Most importantly, the update builds on the EU Digital COVID Certificate, which is currently being rolled out by the Commission and the Member States.

The Commission also proposed to update the common criteria for risk areas and to introduce an ‘emergency brake' mechanism, to address new coronavirus variants of concern or interest. The proposal also includes specific provisions on children to ensure unity of travelling families and a standard validity period for tests.

This update was adopted by the Council on 14 June 2021.

What are the main changes introduced by the latest update of the Council Recommendation?

  • Fully vaccinated persons with the EU Digital COVID Certificate should be exempted from travel-related testing or quarantine 14 days after having received the last dose of a COVID-19 vaccine approved for the entire EU. This should also cover recovered persons having received a single dose of a 2-dose vaccine. Member States could also lift such additional restrictions after the first dose of a 2-dose series, while taking into account the impact of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern or interest on vaccine effectiveness after the administration of only one dose.
  • Recovered persons with the EU Digital COVID Certificate should be exempted from travel-related testing or quarantine during the first 180 days after a positive PCR test.
  • Persons with a negative test in the EU Digital COVID Certificate format should be exempted from possible quarantine requirements, except when they come from areas heavily affected by the virus (more details below). The Member States agreed on a standard validity period for tests: 72 hours for PCR tests and, where accepted by a Member State, 48 hours for rapid antigen tests.
  • ‘Emergency brake': Member States can re-introduce travel measures for vaccinated and recovered persons if the epidemiological situation deteriorates rapidly, in particular due to a high prevalence of coronavirus variants of concern or interest.
  • To ensure family unity, minors travelling with parents or other accompanying persons should be exempted from quarantine when the accompanying persons do not need to undergo quarantine, for example due to vaccination. Children under 12 years of age should also be exempted from travel-related testing.

What are the criteria used by ECDC to mark a region as green, orange, red, dark red or grey?

  • the ‘14-day cumulative coronavirus case notification rate', which is the total number of newly notified coronavirus cases per 100 000 people in the last 14 days;
  • the ‘test positivity rate', which is the percentage of positive tests for coronavirus infection during the last week;
  • the ‘testing rate', which is the number of tests for coronavirus infection per 100 000 people during the last week.

What determines whether a ‘red' zone is red etc.?

The Council has decided to adapt the thresholds used to determine the colours in the map published weekly by ECDC. Following the update, an area will be marked in the following colours:

 

Test positivity

Notification rate

Under 1%

1-4%

More than 4%

Below 50

Green

Green

Orange

50 -75

Green

Orange

Orange

75 -200

Orange

Orange

Red

200 - 500

Red

Red

Red

Above 500

Dark red

Dark red

Dark red

Insufficient testing or data

Grey

Grey

Grey

What happens if I travel from one of the different zones?

If you are vaccinated or recovered and you have an EU Digital COVID Certificate, you should not be required to be tested or quarantine independent of the colour of the area you are travelling from.

If you are not fully vaccinated or recovered, you might be subject to certain measures depending on the colour of the area you are travelling from:

  • if you are travelling from a ‘green' area, no restrictions should be applied.
  • if you are travelling from an ‘orange' area, you might be required to be in the possession of a negative test in line with the EU Digital COVID Certificate. If you do not have a test, you could be required to be tested after arrival.
  • if you are travelling from a ‘red' area, you should be in the possession of a negative test in line with the EU Digital COVID Certificate. If you do not have it, you could be required to quarantine until a negative test result is obtained after arrival, unless you develop COVID-19 symptoms.
  • if you are travelling from a ‘dark red' area, you should be required to undergo both a pre-departure test and quarantine. Travelling from a “dark area” is still strongly discouraged.

Emergency brake: Where the epidemiological situation in a region within a Member State or in a Member State deteriorates rapidly, in particular due to a high prevalence of variants of concern or interest that are not already widespread in the EU, Member States could trigger an emergency brake. On this basis, Member States should, exceptionally and temporarily, also require vaccinated or recovered persons to undergo a test and/or quarantine. Wherever possible, such measures should be limited to the regional level.

What does ‘fully vaccinated' mean?

In the travel context, you should be considered as ‘fully vaccinated' after:

  • having received the second dose in a 2-dose series of a COVID-19 vaccine approved for the entire EU (including where two doses of different COVID-19 vaccines have been administered according to national vaccination strategies);
  • having received a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine approved for the entire EU;
  • having received a single dose of a 2-dose series of a COVID-19 vaccine approved for the entire EU after having previously been infected with COVID-19, where the Member State issuing the EU Digital COVID Certificate considers the vaccination course as completed.
    • 14 days after full vaccination, you should not be required to undergo additional travel-related testing or quarantine.

Member States could also lift such additional restrictions after the first dose of a 2-dose series, while taking into account the impact of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern or interest on vaccine effectiveness after the administration of only one dose.

What if I am not yet ‘fully vaccinated', for example because I have only received one dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine so far?

14 days after full vaccination is the baseline that every Member State should accept. However, Member States can also decide whether partially vaccinated persons are already exempted from travel-related tests or quarantine, taking into account the impact that variants of concern or interest can have on vaccine effectiveness and which may result in particularly low protection after the administration of only one dose of a 2-course vaccine.

To demonstrate that you are partially vaccinated, you will be able to obtain an EU Digital COVID Certificate already after the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Under which conditions should recovered persons be exempted from tests and quarantine?

If you are in the possession of a certificate of recovery in the EU Digital COVID Certificate format indicating that less than 180 days have passed since your first positive test result, you should not be required to undergo additional travel-related testing or quarantine.

In accordance with the rules on the EU Digital COVID Certificate, a certificate of recovery can be issued at the earliest eleven days after a positive PCR test.

What happens if I don't have the EU Digital COVID Certificate?

Until 1 July 2021, references to ‘EU Digital COVID Certificate' also cover COVID-19 certificates issued in other formats (for example the yellow WHO vaccination booklet).

It is expected that most if not all Member States will be ready to issue the certificate as of 1 July, already many Member States have started issuing it. If, however, a Member State is not yet ready to issue EU Digital COVID Certificates on 1 July, it can continue to issue other formats for another six weeks, which need to be accepted in other Member States.

What will be the rules for minors?

To preserve family unity, Member States have agreed that minors (below the age of 18) should not be required to quarantine if the person(s) accompanying them, such as their parents, are exempted from quarantine, for example because they are vaccinated. In addition, children under the age of 12 years should be exempt from travel-related tests.

How does the ‘emergency brake' work?

The ‘emergency brake' mechanism is intended to prevent the spread of coronavirus ‘variants of concern' or ‘variants of interest', that is, of mutations of the virus that have characteristics making them more serious than the established strain of the virus (more information on the website of ECDC). For example, a variant of concern could be more transmissible, could cause more severe infections, or could escape the protection of a COVID-19 vaccine. Because of these characteristics, Member States may take measures to limit or delay the spread of such variants into their territories.

To be able to detect variants of concern or interest, Member States have agreed to analyse a certain minimum amount of positive coronavirus cases each week (called ‘sequencing').

Member States can trigger the emergency brake if the epidemiological situation in a Member State deteriorates rapidly, in particular due to a high prevalence of variants of concern or interest that increase transmissibility and infection severity, impact immunity or affect vaccine effectiveness, and the variants is not already widespread in the EU (such as the so-called ‘Alpha' variant).

In this case, Member States should, exceptionally and temporarily, require travellers arriving from the area concerned to be tested and/or quarantine. This could also cover vaccinated or recovered persons. Wherever possible, such measures should be limited to the regional level.

Before triggering the emergency brake, Member States should take into account how widespread the variants is in the area concerned and the amount of sequencing carried out to detect such variants.

Where a Member State triggers the emergency brake, it needs to inform the Commission and the other Member States. Based on this information, the Council, in close cooperation with the Commission and supported by ECDC, should review the situation to ensure a coordinated approach.

Which countries does the Recommendation apply to?

The Recommendation applies to all EU Member States, as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

I am a lorry driver/nurse/student/diplomat/journalist - do I have to undergo quarantine if I cross a border? I need to go home because my mother is unwell, do I need to quarantine?

If you are vaccinated or recovered and you have an EU Digital COVID Certificate, you should not be required to be tested or quarantine independent of the colour of the area you are travelling from.

If you have an essential reason to travel, you will not be required to undergo quarantine, even if you are not vaccinated or recovered. This is because the EU recognises that while we must protect ourselves from the spread of the virus, there are important reasons for which EU citizens need to use their right to free movement in an unrestricted way.

The Member States have agreed that the following categories of travellers will be exempt from the requirement to undergo quarantine measures when fulfilling their essential function or need:

  • workers or self-employed people exercising critical occupations including health care workers, frontier and posted workers as well as seasonal workers as referred to in the Commission Guidelines;
  • transport workers or transport service providers, including drivers of freight vehicles carrying goods for use in the territory as well as those merely transiting;
  • patients travelling for imperative medical reasons;
  • pupils, students and trainees who travel abroad on a daily basis;
  • people travelling for imperative family or business reasons;
  • diplomats, staff of international organisations and people invited by international organisations whose physical presence is required for the well-functioning of these organisations, military personnel and police officers, and humanitarian aid workers and civil protection personnel in the exercise of their functions;
  • passengers in transit;
  • seafarers;
  • journalists, when performing their duties.

However, essential travellers may be required to undergo quarantine when arriving from a ‘dark red' area, provided that this does not have a disproportionate impact on the exercise of their function or need. This does not apply to transport workers, who should always be exempted from quarantine.

I live in a border region and I have to cross the border daily or frequently as part of my daily life. How is this being taken into account?

Member States agreed that persons living in border regions and travelling across the border on a daily or frequent basis for the purposes of work, business, education, family, medical care or caregiving should not be required to undergo a test or quarantine, in particular persons exercising critical functions or essential for critical infrastructure.

If a testing requirement on cross-border travel is introduced in these regions, the frequency and type of tests on such persons should be proportionate. If the epidemiological situation on both sides of the border is comparable, no travel-related testing requirement should be imposed. In addition, if you are vaccinated or recovered and you have an EU Digital COVID Certificate, you should not be required to be tested.

Do restrictive measures apply if I just drive through a country? Or stop at a petrol station? Or change trains?

Travellers in transit should not be subject to restrictive measures such as testing or quarantine.

Where can I find information about travel restrictions?

Information is available on the ‘Re-open EU' web platform, with a link to the weekly-updated map by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Can EU Member States ban citizens from travelling within the EU?

Member States should in principle not ban the entry of people travelling from other Member States. Instead, they could apply measures such as quarantine or testing if they consider them necessary. Entry bans must be limited to absolutely exceptional situations, such as a general lockdown across the country that also includes a prohibition on domestic movement.

For more information

Press Release - Coronavirus: Commission proposes update to coordinated travel measures ahead of the summer

ReopenEU

EU Digital COVID Certificate Website


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