UPDATED: November 13th, 2020

European Union Member States are constantly reviewing and updating measures in place to deal with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Currently, one of Europe’s main challenges is to balance the easing of its travel restrictions and tourism recovery with health measures to avoid new COVID-19 outbreaks.

The EU is ready to coordinate the member states’ efforts and measures in order to strengthen its ability to overcome the current health crisis. To try and achieve this, the EU has issued recommendations to member states aimed at making external borders safe and reducing the need for internal travel restrictions.

Entry restrictions are under constant review as the situation continues to evolve. Whilst the economy is of central concern, the priority of European authorities is to safeguard public health.

This sentiment was expressed by Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, during a press conference at the start of the pandemic:

“It is important that our healthcare system is able to deal with the number of patients that are severely ill and, therefore, it is of our utmost importance to (...) slow down social context, to slow down public life and to slow down the spread of the virus.”

Therefore, although total closure of Europe’s borders is no longer considered essential, some restrictions are still required in order to curb the spread of COVID-19 and help Europe recover as swiftly as possible.

This article provides key information about:

  • Non-EU citizens who can now travel to Europe
  • EU recommendations on free movement in the EU
  • EU financial measures and other action to aid recovery
  • How Europe is preparing for future outbreaks

The EU Decides on a List of Safe Countries

In June, the EU created a set of criteria which would allow them to assess the risk posed by third countries. To be considered safe countries of origin, territories must have a downward trend of cases, sufficient social distancing measures in place and a Covid-19 infection rate of fewer than 16 in every 100,000.

The list is being reviewed and revised every 2 weeks by the EU authorities and member states, countries may be added to or removed from the safe list if the situation in the country changes.

The current, official list of safe countries offered by the EU includes the following nations:

  • Australia
  • China, subject to a reciprocal agreement
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • Rwanda
  • South Korea
  • Thailand
  • Uruguay

The UK, Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway are automatically considered safe despite not being in the EU.

Travellers from these countries must first check with the nation they wish to visit since the list is only a recommendation, not a mandatory measure. Each individual EU Member State will decide at what point they begin to allow travellers from some or all the selected safe nations.

Exceptions to EU Border Closures During COVID-19

Throughout the period of closure, certain groups of travellers have remained exempt from the EU travel restrictions:

  • UE citizens coming back to their countries of residence (therefore, the entry restrictions will apply in the EU’s external borders only).
  • Healthcare workers, such as doctors and nurses.
  • Members of the scientific community working on the solutions for this health crisis.
  • Citizens commuting on borders (e.g., workers who need to provide services on both sides of the border).

So-called ‘green corridors’ were also set up to ensure the fast transportation of goods, throughout the region. A maximum of 15 minutes could be spent on cargo vehicle health checks to maintain speedy transportation of essential items.

The document generated by the EU with the border management guidelines specifies the regulation for these special corridors:

Unobstructed transport of goods should be mainly focused on “essential goods such as food supplies including livestock, vital medical and protective equipment and supplies”.

Facilitation of safe movement for transport works, “including truck and train drivers, pilots and aircrew across internal and external borders”.

A coordinated approach to free movement in the EU

On October 13th, a new recommendation was issued aimed at creating a uniform approach to free movement across the EU. Germany’s Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth stated:

“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. 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.”

To make travelling between member states more straightforward for citizens and business people, the EU has proposed a new system. Every week EU member states will be required to provide the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) with the following data:

  • New cases: number per 100,000 of the population in the last 14 days
  • Testing rate: number of tests carried out per 100,000 of the population in the last 7 days
  • Test positivity rate: percentage of positive tests in the last 7 days

Based on this information, countries will be categorised as green (low risk), orange (medium risk), or red (high risk). If there is insufficient data available, the country will be classed as grey.

Restrictions based on colour categorisation

The EU recommends that no travel restrictions are placed on people arriving from green countries. Regarding orange and red areas, states should decide whether or not to apply restriction, acting proportionately based on all the data available.

EU countries should not block entry to any of the other member states, even from red territories, but may apply certain restrictions as deemed necessary. Mandatory quarantine, testing on arrival and passenger locator forms are 3 of the measures put forward.

Information about new restrictions should be made available to the public a minimum of 24 hours before they come into force. Travellers should check the very latest information before departure.

The importance of quickly restoring freedom of movement to the European Union

Tourism is important to the economies of many EU countries. For this reason, all Member States are eager to welcome back foreign visitors as soon as possible by ending exceptional EU entry restrictions.

To achieve this, and safeguard freedom of movement, it has been requested that Member States reduce entry restrictions at the same pace as other measures are relaxed.

One suggestion is to take a regional, rather than national, approach, lifting restrictions in areas where the situation has improved sufficiently rather than waiting for an entire nation to reach the same level.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) made clear that freedom of movement across borders is a priority and should return swiftly. This was expressed by Juan Fernando López Aguilar, Civil Liberties Charis and rapporteur when he stated:

“For the vast majority of EU citizens, the Schengen area constitutes one of the greatest achievements in the history of the EU, and it has never before experienced the outbreak of such a serious pandemic on its territory. I strongly deplore any unilateral or disproportionate measures by individual Member States to impose border restrictions upon other Member States without communication or a clear and limited timeframe. All actions meant to restore a fully operational Schengen area must be coordinated at EU level and fully respect the principle of non-discrimination”.

Financial Measures to Help Post-COVID Recovery

The Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative (CRII) was set up to help EU countries recover from the pandemic. By mobilising unspent money in EU funds, EU Member States are able to respond to some of the most pressing economic challenges:

  • Spending on healthcare
  • Support short-term work schemes
  • Support small and medium-sized enterprises

This has been complemented by a new set of measures, Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative Plus (CRII+) which offers additional support in the following areas:

  • Flexibility: between funds, regions and topics, full EU co-financing rate
  • Protection for the hardest hit: food and basic materials assistance in the form of e-vouchers
  • Support for key sectors: farmers, fishermen, and food sectors

Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative in action

Some examples of how European countries are using CRII are as follows:

Croatia

400 million euros have been mobilised with investments in online tools for primary and secondary education and a world-class children’s health research centre.

Bulgaria

20 million euros of funding have helped purchase first-class medical equipment such as ventilators and personal protective equipment including over 2 million face masks.

Hungary

320 million euros have been reallocated to provide working capital loans for SMEs affected by the economic crisis. Increased support for companies in the services sector.

Lithuania

250 million euros of ESI funds going towards purchasing testing kits, medical equipment and personal protective equipment. Support for businesses and economic stimulus packages are also being made more widely available.

Historical 750 billion euro stimulus agreement signed

On July 21st, following 5 days of intensive discussions and not without tension, leaders of the European Union have arrived at a historic agreement to deal with one of their greatest challenges to date.

The 750 billion euro stimulus agreement prompted by Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s President Emmanuel Macron has sent a strong message of support. However, the summit has also exposed strain between some of its members.

It is the first time that member countries of the EU will sell bonds collectively and money will be handed to nations that have been hit the hardest in the region by the pandemic. Italy, for instance, is expected to get 250 billion euros from this new EU Covid-19 recovery fund.

Merkel said during the conference that took place at dawn, “Europe has shown it is able to break new ground in a special situation. Exceptional situations require exceptional measures.”

Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sánchez welcomed the deal with these words, “Europe has shown it knows how to respond when faced with a historic challenge by coming up with a historic deal.”

This is an unprecedented act of solidarity between the 27 Member States that form the EU.

Funding for research projects to better understand COVID-19

On November 5th the European Commission announced €128 million of EU funding for 23 new projects under the Horizon 2020 programme.

The money will be used by teams from 39 countries to help address the consequences of COVID-19 and better understand the virus. Projects will provide solutions for healthcare workers, improved diagnosis and treatment, and more.

Team Europe: Assisting Partner Countries Around the World

When it comes to providing financial support and aiding recovery, the EU is not only looking inwards but also to partner countries that have been worst affected by the pandemic, which had resulted in the creation of a European team that channels funds to third nations.

Team Europe was launched on 8th April with the aim of protecting the lives and livelihoods of the people most in need.

Close to 36 billion euros have been made available through this new EU Team. Some examples of how the money will be distributed are as follows:

  • 50 million euros were allocated to Nigeria to help contain the spread of the virus
  • 240 million are destined for Jordan and Lebanon for vulnerable households
  • 10 million euros for diagnostic labs, test kits and treatment centres in Ethiopia
  • 8 million for protective equipment and staff treatment in the Caribbean

The coronavirus pandemic is affecting countries across the world, but for countries without functioning health systems and economic resources, recovery is much more of a challenge. For this reason, the EU is committed to a global response.

Coronavirus Measures Taken by EU Member States: Main Milestones

The main goals of the European Commission during this health crisis are to:

1) ensure enough capacity of the health systems and civil protection systems across Europe so the wellbeing of citizens is preserved 2) protect and help companies and workers that have been affected 3) generate a coordinated response to protect the Member States’ economies.

In accordance with these objectives, many Member States have put in motion a series of measures to protect citizens and the economy from the effects of the COVID-19 over the last few months.

Timeline of key measures taken across Europe

The following is a brief timeline of the main milestones by EU ETIAS countries, as well as other important data related to the spread of the virus worldwide:

Italy

  • February 21, 2020 — First Covid-19 case is detected in Codogno, province of Lodi, Lombardy (north of Italy)
  • March 10, 2020: — Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte declares the ‘red zone’ alert for the entire country
  • March 16, 2020 — The government approves 25 billion euros ($28 billion) of spending measures to slow down the spread of the virus
  • March 17, 2020 — Current mortality rate: 6,6%. The country is about to reach 30,000 confirmed cases and over 2,000 deaths
  • May 12, 2020 — The Italian government approves €55 billion stimulus package
  • May 18, 2020 — businesses including bars, restaurants, and shops reopen
  • June 3, 2020 — Italy reopens its borders to EU residents and ends travel restrictions
  • July 13, 2020 — Head of the ICU at a Bergamo hospital says former patients treated for Covid-19 develop serious long-term health issues
  • October 7th — face masks made mandatory outdoors
  • October 12th — parties banned and religious ceremonies reduced to 30 guests
  • November 6th — new restrictions announced including closing shopping malls at weekends and limiting travel between regions

France

  • March 17, 2020 — Emmanuel Macron warns ‘we are at war’ as announces the release of 45 billion euros ($50 billion) to help small businesses and employees struggling with the current health outbreak
  • March 19, 2020 — The country closes its borders
  • April 14, 2020 — the government increases its support plan to €110 billion
  • May 11, 2020 — France begins gradual lifting of lockdown measures
  • June 15, 2020 — borders to reopen
  • July 14 — doctors in France record the first case in the world of a child contracting Covid-19 from its mother inside the womb
  • July 14 — Bastille Day is celebrated and honors heroes of pandemic
  • July 14 — President Emmanuel Macron gives a rare interview to answer questions about pandemic response and the state of the economy
  • October 6th — bars in Paris closed for 2 weeks as the city is put under maximum alert
  • October 14th — Four-week curfew imposed on Paris region and 8 other metropolitan areas
  • October 30th — start of one-month nationwide lockdown, people must stay at home other than to buy essential goods or seek medical attention, 1 hour of exercise permitted per day

Spain

  • January 31, 2020 — La Gomera, in the Canary Islands, registers the first case of Coronavirus, a citizen of Germany who is isolated and analyzed by healthcare professionals
  • February 24, 2020 — The number of cases rapidly grows due to the arrival of infected citizens who recently traveled to Italy
  • March 14, 2020 — Pedro Sánchez declares the state of alarm nationwide
  • March 17, 2020 — The Council of Ministers presents a package of economic measures to reduce the negative effects provoked by the Covid-19 for a total of 200 billion euro injected into the economy, which represents nearly 20% of Spain’s annual GDP
  • May 4, 2020 — 4-phase lifting of lockdown begins
  • July 1, 2020 — borders will reopen to EU travellers without quarantine
  • July 16, 2020 — ceremony honoring victims of the pandemic is held in Madrid and presided by Spain’s King Felipe VI
  • October 9th — State of emergency declared in Madrid bringing back restrictive measures such as limiting social gatherings and banning movement in and out of the city
  • October 24th — national state of emergency announced and night time curfew implemented. Restrictions on travel between regions

Germany

  • March 22nd — public gatherings limited to 2 with a minimum distance of 1.5 meters
  • April 15th — physical distancing measures eased
  • October 6th — stores, bars, and restaurants must close between the hours of 11 pm and 6 am amid rising cases
  • October 12th — esports players can enter Germany with special visa
  • November 2nd — additional restrictions enter into force, people can only go out with members of their own household plus one other household, maximum of 10. Recreational facilities, bars, restaurants, and cafes closed except for takeaway and delivery plus other measures

Netherlands

  • March 23rd — ‘intelligent lockdown’ announced, no more than 2 people in public spaces, social distance of 1.5 metres
  • May 11th — relaxation of measures including the opening of primary schools
  • June 1st — restaurants, pubs, theatres, and museums reopen
  • September 18th — rise in cases means bars and restaurants to shut at 1 am
  • October 13th — partial lockdown introduced, bars and restaurants closed except for takeaway
  • November 3rd — extra lockdown measures including limiting public meetings of people from outside the same family to 2

Portugal

  • March 12th — state of emergency declared
  • May 4th — gradual lifting of restrictions begins starting with small local stores
  • September 15th — state of contingency announced, limitations on gatherings and sale of alcohol after 8 pm
  • November 4th — 121 municipalities subject to tighter measures including earlier closing times for commerce and restaurants and gatherings limited to 5 people

Belgium

  • March 17th — strict lockdown measures announced
  • June 8th — the final stage of the 3-phase lockdown exit plan begins
  • October 9th — some restrictions tightened due to rising cases, bars must close at 11 pm
  • November 2nd — lockdown measure including the closure of non-essential shops and bans on visiting family and friends in their households

Denmark

  • March 11th — lockdown comes into force including the closure of schools and businesses
  • April 15th — Denmark is the first country to reopen some schools
  • October 13th — Denmark records the lowest number of new cases in over a month

Sweden

  • October 5th — Sweden avoided a harsh lockdown but restrictions on gatherings could remain in place for another year

Switzerland

  • May 11th — reopening of schools, bars, and restaurants
  • July 20th — entry restrictions eased for travellers from 21 countries including those on EU safe list
  • October 28th — limits on sporting and leisure activities, face mask requirement in public spaces

Greece

  • March 23rd — nationwide restriction on movement comes into force
  • May 4th — small businesses reopen as lockdown measures are gradually eased
  • September 26th — establishments serving food and drinks must close between midnight and 5 am
  • November 5th — 3-week nationwide lockdown announced, non-essential business shut and residents told to stay at home

Latvia

  • March 12 — state of emergency declared by Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš
  • May 7th — state of emergency extended until June but some measures eased
  • October 12th — all travellers to Latvia to complete electronic questionnaire maximum 48 hours before crossing the border

V4 Initiative

The Visegrád 4 countries have created a new online platform which makes it easier to share knowledge. The Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia shall cooperate through videoconferences attended by disease control experts from the 4 nations.

The V4 will use the meetings to exchange information and discuss border crossings and air travel.

COVID-19 tracing and warning applications

The EU supports the use of tracing and warning apps as a way of preventing the spread of coronavirus. Most EU Member States have launched a COVID-19 tracing app which residents can download and use voluntarily.

They implement Bluetooth technology to alert individuals who have been in contact with someone who later tests positive for the virus.

EU Member States with mobile coronavirus tracing apps

  • Austria: Stopp Corona App
  • Belgium: Coronalert
  • Croatia: Stop COVID-19
  • Czechia: eRouška
  • Denmark: Smittestop
  • Finland: Koronavilkku
  • France: StopCovid
  • Germany: Corona-Warn-App
  • Hungary: VirusRadar
  • Ireland: COVID Tracker
  • Italy: Immuni
  • Latvia: Apturi Covid
  • Lithuania: Karantinas
  • Malta: COVIDAlert
  • Netherlands: CoronaMelder
  • Poland: ProteGo Safe
  • Portugal: StayAway COVID
  • Slovenia: #OstaniZdrav
  • Spain: Radar Covid

Member States and the Commission have together set up services to allow the national apps to communicate with each other. This way, EU citizens will still be able to receive alerts when travelling in Europe.

COVID-19 tracing apps and the protection of personal data

There is a set of guiding principles for the use of EU tracing apps to ensure that the user’s privacy and data are not compromised:

  • Use of apps should be voluntary
  • Only strictly necessary data is collected
  • Location data is not requested and apps do not track movements
  • Data should only be stored for 14 days
  • Encryption and other advanced techniques used to protect data
  • Apps should be deactivated at the end of the pandemic