European Union countries on Tuesday agreed on common criteria to coordinate coronavirus travel restrictions in an effort to end the confusing patchwork of national rules that has developed during the pandemic.
Ministers from the 27 countries agreed on the new guidelines at a meeting in Luxembourg, putting in place a common mapping system to define risk areas in the EU, although the rules are not binding on member states.
In March, several EU nations hastily closed their borders in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus, even though the EU's Schengen agreement allows residents to move freely between countries without visas. The action blocked traffic and medical equipment.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our daily lives in many ways. Travel restrictions have made it difficult for some of our citizens to get to work, to university or to visit their loved ones," said Michael Roth, the German minister for Europe.
"It is our common duty to ensure coordination on any measures which affect free movement and to give our citizens all the information they need when deciding on their travel."
Member states agreed to provide coronavirus data to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), which will publish a weekly map sorting regions according to the severity of coronavirus outbreaks.
The criteria used to define the colored zones - green, orange and red - are the number of newly notified cases per 100,000 in the past 14 days as well as the testing rate and the test positivity rate in the past week.
Member states agreed that they should not restrict free movement of people traveling from or to green areas, but national EU governments will continue to set their own restrictions such as quarantines or mandatory testing upon arrival for people coming from orange or red zones.
A region will be classified as green if the 14-day notification rate is lower than 25 and the test positivity rate below 4 percent. Under the criteria adopted Tuesday, most EU regions would be either red or orange. On Tuesday, Estonia's 14-day average was 44.77 per 100,000.
"This agreement avoids border closures and favors the least penalizing health control measures, such as testing," said Clement Beaune, the French minister for Europe. "Last but not least, essential movements, especially those of frontier workers, will be secured."
EU countries also agreed to provide timely information to their neighbors about new restrictions - if possible 48 hours in advance - and to develop a harmonized passenger locator form for all means of transport.
The EU Council said member states should not deny access to persons traveling from other EU nations and urged them to "respect the differences in the epidemiological situation between orange and red areas and act in a proportionate manner" if they decide to apply restrictions.
Editor: Helen Wright