Official: Goal to reach agreement on EU common travel rules in two weeks

Small numbers of tourists and travelers arriving at the Port of Tallinn shortly after the end of the emergency situation in May.
Small numbers of tourists and travelers arriving at the Port of Tallinn shortly after the end of the emergency situation in May. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Estonian officials are optimistic European Union member states will reach an agreement on the European Commission's proposal to increase the coronavirus infection rate limit for the implementation of travel restrictions from 16 to 50. The goal is to have new rules agreed in two weeks time.

On Friday, the commission proposed a common Europe-wide approach to movement restrictions and decided if the number of people infected per 100,000 falls below 50 as a two week average, quarantine restrictions should not be imposed on people traveling from that country.

Currently, travelers must isolate for 14 days if they start their journey in, or pass through, a country with an infection rate of 16 per 100,000 inhabitants as a 14 day average or higher.

The government has not yet discussed the proposals.

Undersecretary for European Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Märt Volmer said he is optimistic.

"These recommendations come in the form of council recommendations, which means that the member states themselves must first agree on what is laid out in this recommendation," Volmer told ERR.

He said this means there will be a month-long negotiation process in which the member states will discuss exactly what limits should be agreed.

"We would like to see these Council recommendations adopted by the [European Union] General Affairs Council on 22 September, but not yet by the Council," Volmer added.

"Let's see how it goes. Maybe the European Union will do what it always does, maybe it will reach an agreement on completely impossible issues," Volmer said.

"I think a lot of countries think that in order to have a common European approach, they can adjust their numbers a bit," he added.

A traffic light system could be introduced

Keit Kasemets. Source: ERR

Head of the European Commission's Representation in Estonia Keit Kasemets wrote on social media that according to the Commission's proposal, a so-called traffic light system could be introduced in all countries using three criteria: The number of tests performed, the number of positive tests and two weeks of new infections.

"Today, the situation has changed since the beginning of the summer, when the virus had receded. If the level of 16 cases per 100 000 inhabitants is applied, only EU citizens living or working in Latvia (4.8), Finland (6.4) and Cyprus (10.3) can travel. The number of hospital admissions has decreased significantly and the medical system across Europe is coping well with the virus. Stockpiles of personal protective equipment are available," Kasemets wrote.

Kasemets noted that in green areas, the number of infected people per 100,000 inhabitants would be less than 25 as a two week average and positive tests should make up less than three percent of all tests carried out. "There are currently nine such countries in the European Union [which meet this criteria], very few," he said.

Kasemets said the number in yellow or orange areas should be less than 50 and the number of positive tests would be less than three percent. There are currently 20 countries in the European Union which would meet this standard.

He said areas with more than 50 infections would be red and more than three percent of tests would need to be positive. 

"When traveling from these areas, you should remain in isolation for two weeks or take the Covid-19 test when you enter the country or before you start traveling," he explained.

Only areas with more than 250 tests per 100,000 inhabitants per week could join the traffic light.

Aas: First you have to agree with your immediate neighbors

Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Taavi Aas Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Taavi Aas (Center) told ERR he supported the European Commission's proposal. "I completely agree with this proposal, there would definitely be significantly less confusion," said Aas.

However, he noted that countries can still set their own rules here. "Now is the time when it is wise to hold consultations, to look at what our close neighbors are doing and then jointly form a position," said Aas.

Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Center) also belives an agreement should be found with neighboring countries. However, he is less optimistic about the European Commission's proposal even though it would make life easier for travelers and businesses.

"But being realistic and looking at a map of Europe where the level of infection in countries varies not many times, but sometimes tens of times, it does not seem realistic to assume that it will be very easy to agree on a common new target," Kiik in an interview with ERR on Monday.

Kiik said the Estonian government has not yet discussed the proposal.

Irja Lutsar, professor of virology at the University of Tartu and member of the scientific council advising the government, agrees there should be a common position in the European Union regarding travel restrictions. 

However, she said as testing currently varies from country to country it can cause problems.

Speaking about the new limit, Lutsar said Estonia had more than 50 infected people per 100,000 inhabitants in for a few days in March but has not met the new proposed limit since.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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