EU targets ‘cacophony’ of different travel rules on coronavirus

Commission advises replacing quarantine with testing, with Ireland an outlier in its approach to travel

The European Commission has urged member states to align their coronavirus rules to prevent a confusing mess of different systems unnecessarily hindering travel.

It comes after Hungary unilaterally barred entry to non-residents this week, raising fears of a return to the unco-ordinated cascade of border closures that disrupted trade and threatened the bloc's treasured achievement of free movement at the outbreak of the pandemic earlier this year.

"Our right to move freely in the EU has been heavily impacted by the pandemic," EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders told journalists as he unveiled a package of recommendations that are to be put forward to member states for approval.

“For the many citizens who rely on frictionless travel every day, the cacophony of national rules in the EU is overwhelming. We want to simplify things.”


Currently a mix of detailed and sometimes contradictory rules is in place across the EU, and they can sometimes change abruptly.

Some countries are much more cautious than others, the length of quarantine required can differ, and some places allow people who have tested negative to leave self-isolation while others do not.

Ireland is an outlier in the bloc in imposing a blanket two-week self-isolation for travellers from all countries except for a "green list" of just 10 states. The more common approach in the EU is to allow movement inside the bloc as a rule, while imposing additional restrictions on specific regions or countries that are identified as high risk.

Asked whether the recommendations would aim to bring the rules in countries such as Ireland more in line with the EU norm, home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson agreed.

“Yes, if the council follows our proposal and takes these recommendations you should not have these kinds of restrictions towards a whole member state if this member state has different kind of zones ,” said Ms Johansson.

“This is exactly what we would like to reach – don’t take measures that are too big to meet the actual purpose of it.”

She emphasised that travel restrictions should be seen as an additional measure in combating the virus, but not the primary one.

“Still, the most important measures to avoid the spread of the virus is physical distancing, wash your hands, and all of these other measure that we’re already taking,” Ms Johansson said. “We should not give the impression that we can deal mainly with fighting the virus by having restrictions on travelling.”

High risk

The package of recommendations urges member states to adopt common criteria for how to assess areas of high risk, and decide whether additional travel restrictions are needed.

Travellers from a high risk or “red” area should either have to quarantine or undergo testing for Covid-19, with testing the “preferred option”, according to the commission.

It advises member states to use the same green, orange and red colour-coding to indicate areas of risk on a map, and adopt a joint framework for what measures should be applied to travellers from the high-risk areas.

In addition, the commission says the recommendations are to be discussed by member states, and the coming changes to restrictions should be communicated in a clear and timely way, with plenty of advance warning to the public.

The recommendations are to be discussed by member states in the coming weeks.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times