The adoption by European affairs ministers of a European Council recommendation on travel restrictions has been branded a failure by the aviation sector which has issued a stark warning of the potential consequences.
The Council recommendation on a coordinated approach to the restriction of free movement in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, now formally approved, sets out some guidance to member states. Yet, in the opinion of several aviation bodies, it falls far short of what it was supposed to deliver: encouraging a restart of travel through effective coordination and proportionate, predictable and non-discriminatory measures.
Aviation bodies ACI Europe, Airlines for Europe (A4E) and IATA have strongly pushed for a common pre-departure Covid-19 testing framework to replace quarantines for passengers traveling from high risk areas, in order to re-establish freedom of movement in Europe. They feel that the current lack of coordination between member states has killed the nascent recovery of travel and tourism, thus jeopardizing millions of jobs associated with the sector.
Specifically, they highlight that the recommendations fail to address the following issues.
• They do not propose to replace quarantines by testing, effectively meaning borders remain closed.
• The door is left open for member states to refuse entry to citizens traveling from other member states and also fails to harmonize the rules applicable for cross-border and domestic travel.
• They conflict with the principle of the EC Communication of May 13 that travel restrictions should be lifted between areas that have equivalent (“sufficiently similar”) epidemiological situations.
• The recommendations ignore the ECDC (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control) opinion that travel restrictions – and in particular quarantines – are of “questionable effectiveness” when community transmission is ongoing, which is currently the case across most of Europe.
• They fail to create a sufficient window of certainty for travelers, as member states have only committed to publishing information on new measures 24 hours prior to their entry into force, as opposed to the five days the Commission had proposed.
According to the industry bodies, these shortcomings are a political failure. The inability of the Council to go beyond shallow coordination and establish a truly harmonized and workable framework is now beyond any doubt.
They concluded that expectations for an effective solution now rest with the European Commission, which has charged EASA (European Union Aviation Safety Agency) and ECDC with the development of an EU Testing Protocol for Travel.
ACI Europe, IATA and A4E state they support the Testing Protocol initiative, which presents an opportunity to address the risk of importation of cases from high-risk areas to low-risk areas far more effectively than quarantine, and end the disastrous patchwork of responses between individual member states.
The organizations note that, under the mandate given to them by the European Commission, EASA and the ECDC can now move forward with the framework needed to reverse the continued economic blows suffered by Europe as a result of a continued lack of a coordinated response and leadership from the European Council.