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Is the EU likely to reinstate Covid travel restrictions?

A meeting is scheduled for Wednesday in Brussels to discuss the latest Covid situation in China - so could this mark the return of vaccine passports and travel restrictions?

Is the EU likely to reinstate Covid travel restrictions?
COVID-19 preventive measures information document provided to the passengers of a flight from China at the Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle airport in Roissy, outside Paris, on January 1, 2023, as France reinforces health measures at the borders for travellers arriving from China. Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP

Several EU countries including France, Italy and Spain (as well as non-EU countries including the UK and USA) have already imposed travel restrictions on arrivals from China, over fears of new variants of Covid-19.

The countries announced their restrictions – mostly amounting to compulsory tests and masks – on a unilateral basis at the end of last week, but there have been calls for greater co-ordination at an EU level.

There is now a meeting scheduled for Wednesday of the EU Integrated Policy Response Capability to discuss coordinating measures, with an insider telling Politico: “The idea is to harmonise, but without being extremely prescriptive.”

The meeting has been called by Sweden, which now holds the rotating presidency of the EU. 

So what measures are likely?

At present the countries that have announced restrictions have only imposed testing and mask rules – there is no requirement to show proof of vaccination and no travel bans. All measures only apply only to travellers from China.

A meeting of the European Health Safety Committee last Thursday did not produce any concrete measures, with EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides merely urging member states to coordinate quickly. It was after this that some countries announced their own restrictions.

If anything more concrete comes out of Wednesday’s meeting, it is likely to refer to testing or mask rules only and like the previous EU Covid travel policies, will be advisory for countries to follow.

Because borders are a national competence, countries can impose their own measures without having to consult the EU.

Despite the introduction of the EU digital vaccine passport, countries never managed to entirely co-ordinate their travel rules during 2020 and 2021.

In most EU countries the health pass or vaccine pass apps remain active, and could be used again if necessary. 

Will there be travel bans?

At this stage more draconian restrictions – such as the ‘red lists’ or ‘essential travel only’ rules of 2021 seem unlikely.

Most EU countries have a high level of vaccine cover, so would probably only resort to travel restrictions if new variants – against which current Covid vaccines are not effective – emergence in China (or any other country).  

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TRAVEL NEWS

New rail service planned through Norway, Sweden and Denmark to Hamburg

Plans for a new rail service running from Oslo and stopping in Gothenburg, Malmö and Copenhagen before arriving in Hamburg are in the works, Swedish state-owned rail operator SJ has said.

New rail service planned through Norway, Sweden and Denmark to Hamburg

Sweden’s state-owned SJ, along with Denmark’s DSB and DB of Germany, plans to offer a new international train line which runs between the Norwegian capital Oslo and Hamburg in northern Germany. 

The planned route would run daily, departing from Oslo at 8am before making stops in Gothenburg, Malmö and Copenhagen and arriving in Hamburg at 7pm. A service departing Hamburg and terminating in Gothenburg is also planned.

The 11 hour service would be quicker than the equivalent journey using either a car and ferry connection or existing train services. 

The planned service will enter into operation in 2027. Petter Essén, head of SJ’s vehicle and traffic programme, said the route made sense as it would connect a long stretch which doesn’t have continuous train traffic. 

“Today, there is a great deal of flying between Copenhagen and Oslo and between Oslo and Gothenburg, routes that would be fine by train,” Essén told Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter

Currently, the only direct trains from the Norwegian capital to other countries are services to Gothenburg and Stockholm. 

The European Commission has selected the potential line as one of ten pilot projects that will receive support. This does not mean it will receive direct funding from the EU, but it will get backing on regulations and logistics, Essén explained.

“You can get help with various regulations and the process of getting all vehicles approved in all countries,” he said.

Generally, many Swedish and Norwegian trains can only operate within Sweden and Norway, while the majority of Danish and German trains are not cleared to run in Sweden in Norway. 

The Snälltåget line between Stockholm and Berlin has also been selected to receive support from the European Commission. 

SJ also announced plans to increase the number of trains between Gothenburg and Malmö to ten per day and offer the Gothenburg-Copenhagen service all year round. It said that these plans could come to fruition by 2026 or 2027. 

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