The European Commission has recommended all EU member states to lift their bans on travellers from the UK, after countries across Europe and beyond suspended travel from Britain over concerns about a mutant strain of the CCP virus.
Instead of an outright ban, the commission recommended that member states should just “discourage non-essential travel” between the UK and the 27-country bloc.
“Given the current uncertainties and in light of the precautionary principle, member states should take coordinated action to discourage non-essential travel between the UK and the EU,” said Didier Reynders, the commissioner for justice.
But he said “necessary exemptions” will be considered for EU and UK citizens and residents returning to their homes.
“Union citizens and UK citizens travelling to their member state or country of residence as well as third-country nationals that enjoy EU free movement rights should be exempted from further temporary restrictions provided that they undergo a test or quarantine,” the recommendation said.
Our Recommendation to ensure EU coordinated approach to 🇬🇧 travel restrictions:
➡️ Non-essential travel discouraged, but transit should be facilitated.
➡️ Flight and train bans should stop: need to avoid supply chain disruptions.
— European Commission 🇪🇺 (@EU_Commission) December 22, 2020
Ylva Johansson, the commissioner for home affairs, said the EU is “facilitating swift action to address the new coronavirus variant while ensuring that essential journeys can still take place.”
“Given the need to ensure essential travel and transit home as described in the recommendation, any prohibition of transport services, such as flight or train bans, should be discontinued,” said the recommendation.
The recommendation said EU member states “should not in principle refuse the entry of persons travelling from the UK” for now, as free movement rules will continue to apply to the UK during the Brexit transition period, which is set to end on Dec. 31.
But from Jan. 1, 2021, the UK “will be subject to council recommendation on the temporary restriction on non-essential travel into the EU,” it said.
The commission urged the public health authorities of EU member states to “swiftly identify cases of the new variant” and “immediately identify cases involving persons who travelled to or from the UK in the past 14 days or who are close contacts of confirmed cases” in order to carry out follow-up measures such as testing, isolation, and enhanced contact tracing.
To control its spread, the UK government reversed plans to ease curbs on family gatherings over the holiday season and announced that London and large swathes of southeast England would come under “tier four” restrictions, which are broadly equivalent to the national lockdown in England in November.
Since then, countries across the world have halted air travel to the UK, and France closed its borders for 48 hours on Dec. 20, triggering fears the measures could lead to food shortages if not soon reversed.
Mary Clark contributed to this report.