Brussels (Brussels Morning) The European Commission adopted new regulations on Tuesday for travel between the United Kingdom and EU countries, prompted by the appearance of the new, mutant strain of coronavirus that seems to have surfaced in the UK.
In a press release, the Commission stated that it was recommending a coordinated approach to travel and transport measures along the lines of an earlier European Council Recommendation of 13 October outlining a similar approach to free movement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the new Recommendation, all non-essential travel between the UK and EU territories is “discouraged until further notice”. An exemption is to be made for EU and UK citizens travelling to their country of residence, as well as for third-country nationals that enjoy EU free movement rights. In such cases, travellers will still be required to undergo a test or enter quarantine upon arrival to their destination.
Another exemption is made for travellers with essential functions, such as medical workers. They will be required to undergo a PCR test or a rapid antigen test within 72 hours prior to departure, but will not be subject to quarantine while performing their essential function.
The Commission also called for transport staff within the EU to be exempt from any travel ban across any border, and from testing and quarantine when travelling across a border to and from a vessel, vehicle or aircraft. Should Members States require rapid antigen tests for transport workers because of the new coronavirus strain, the EC asks that this stipulation not lead to transport disruptions.
No bans on transport services
Given the need to ensure essential travel and transit home, as described in the Recommendation, the EC is calling for any prohibition of transport services, such as flight or train bans, to be discontinued.
The EC press statement includes a reminder that, starting 1 January 2021, the UK will become a third country, and will be subject to the same restrictions on non-essential travel to the EU as other countries without EU free movement rights. However, these restrictions will apply neither to EU citizens living in the UK, nor to UK nationals who are long-term residents in an EU Member State.
The release cites Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders as saying that Member States should take coordinated action to discourage non-essential travel between the UK and the EU. “At the same time, blanket travel bans should not prevent thousands of EU and UK citizens from returning to their homes,” Reynders said. “We therefore ensure that the restrictions are coordinated and provide for the necessary exemptions for citizens and residents returning home and other essential travellers.”