The ETIAS visa waiver, to be launched towards the end of 2022, is being implemented to safeguard residents and visitors in the 26 European Schengen Area countries.
This not only means keeping these nations safe from dangerous individuals and criminal activity but also protecting public health.
Article 10 of the regulation states that ETIAS will ‘contribute to the protection of public health by providing for an assessment of whether the applicant poses a high epidemic risk’.
This article explains how the travel authorization will achieve this goal. It also provides examples of the kinds of infectious diseases which ETIAS, once implemented, will help prevent from spreading through Europe.
How Does ETIAS Check the Health of Visitors?
To apply for the ETIAS visa waiver for Europe, travelers are required to provide basic personal information and passport details, including the country of issue.
Confirming the nationality of people visiting Europe is important for several reasons, one of which being the ability to identify those coming from areas experiencing an outbreak of a particular disease or illness.
During epidemics and pandemics, the decision may be taken to block individuals or certain groups from affected areas from entering the Schengen Area as a means of preventing its diffusion.
Questions about health on the ETIAS application form
To successfully complete the ETIAS application form, non-EU nationals are also required to answer a series of questions relating to public health. Existing medical conditions, infectious or contagious parasitic diseases must be truthfully declared.
When the application is submitted, passenger data is automatically run through several databases. If there is no hit in the system, it means that the applicant is not considered to be in any way a threat to the public, either in terms of health or security.
On the other hand, if a red flag is raised during the automatic pre-screening process, the data will move onto manual analysis, carried out by the ETIAS Central Unit and ETIAS National Units. It is at this stage that the request may be denied on wellness grounds.
Revocation or annulment of ETIAS can take place if circumstances change between applying for the authorization and entering Europe.
Border forces have the last say when admitting visitors to the Schengen Area
The European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX) has the power to stop travelers from entering the zone, even if they are in possession of an ETIAS authorization.
Should they have sufficient grounds to suspect the individual poses a danger of any kind to the European nations, access will not be granted, adding a supplementary level of safety and security.
Why is it necessary to stop people with infectious diseases entering Europe?
There are 2 main reasons for temporarily blocking non-EU nationals with contagious diseases from accessing the Schengen Area. The first is to stop the illness from being transmitted to residents and other visitors, especially when the disease is serious and could lead to long-lasting effects or mortality.
This, in turn, helps to protect global wellbeing, since keeping any outbreak as localized as possible is essential in eradicating a contagious disease.
The second, connected, consideration is to prevent European healthcare systems from being overrun. A sudden surge in patients caused by the arrival of an infectious disease to a country can place huge stress on hospitals and medical staff.
How Can ETIAS Help Combat Epidemics and Pandemics
On the rare occasion that a particular disease or virus affects a very large number of people across the world simultaneously, the World Health Organization may declare it an epidemic or pandemic.
In such circumstances, countries need to act in a way that curbs the spread of the infectious disease. One of the best ways to do this is by imposing travel restrictions, if necessary, closing the borders.
How does Europe deal with epidemics and pandemics?
It is important to act swiftly to contain the spread of a contagious disease. Decisions have to be taken quickly to protect public health.
Taking the Ebola crisis of 2014 as an example, European authorities implemented the following measures:
- Early identification and isolation of cases
- Treating of confirmed patients and monitoring symptoms
- Cancelation of flights and temperature screening
The Ebola epidemic mainly affected West African nations, with just a few cases in Europe (Italy, Spain and the UK). The European Union made a significant financial contribution to the aid effort (€1.8 billion up to July 2015) as well as providing protective equipment, vehicles, and other support.
Although Ebola is now under control, the situation continues to be monitored and the level of risk assessed by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Could ETIAS have helped stop the spread of COVID-19?
Travel restrictions have been seen most recently during the coronavirus outbreak. COVID-19, which originated in Wuhan in late 2019, has spread to most countries across the world, including Europe.
Efforts to control the new virus included the application of COVID-19 EU entry restrictions for third-country nationals. Had ETIAS already been in place, it would have played a key role in identifying the nationality of potential visitors before their arrival at the Schengen Area border.
Furthermore, the aforementioned questions regarding health would help with identifying individuals who may be suffering from the disease and stop them from crossing the border.
These actions are in line with one of the central aims of ETIAS: providing for an assessment of whether the applicant poses a high epidemic risk.
As the situation develops, the spread of the disease and the risk it poses to different groups in society is communicated in a report by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. This document explains the measures to be taken by the European Union and the UK based on the current situation.
As of March 26th, 2020 the actions include:
- Social distancing
- Increase hospital capacity to meet higher demand
- Protect healthcare workers
- Prioritize testing of the most vulnerable individuals
Should a similar situation arise in the future, there are hopes that the transmission in Europe of diseases originating overseas can be minimized with the help of the ETIAS pre-screening process.