European Commission Recommends EU Members Lift UK Travel Bans

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This photo illustration created on May 20, 2016 in Lille shows the flags of the European Union and the United Kingdom. On June 23, 2016 Great Britain will hold a referendum on whether or not the United Kingdom will remain within the European Union, often referred to as "Brexit." Group of Seven finance ministers on May 21 warned of the risks from a "shock" to the world economy if Britain votes to leave the European Union next month. / AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUEN

The European Commission recommended Tuesday that EU member states lift the blanket bans some have imposed on arrivals from Britain to allow essential journeys and cargo transport to resume.

France, the country with the busiest train and ferry links to the UK, announced that it would ease restrictions to allow entry to EU nationals and residents on condition passengers can present negative virus tests.

Other countries were expected to follow suit, but Germany and Ireland had already announced that their controls would continue, and a diplomat said EU ambassadors had simply “taken note” of the recommendation.

“There was broad support among EU ambassadors to maintain or reestablish cargo flows to and from the UK,” the diplomat said after the member states met to discuss the proposal.

“EU member states have taken note of the commission recommendations,” he said.

“Member states stand ready to reassess the measures taken in order to limit the further spread of the new SARS-CoV-2 variant when more scientific evidence sheds further light on the nature of the new virus strain.”

This falls short of the European Commission’s advice, released ahead of the meeting.

“Flight and train bans should be discontinued given the need to ensure essential travel and avoid supply chain disruptions,” a statement from the EU executive said.

EU member states are responsible for their own borders, but representatives were to meet later Tuesday to study the Commission’s recommendations.

Several EU member states have imposed flight, train and ferry bans on UK arrivals since Britain announced the discovery of a new strain of coronavirus.

The ban on arrivals in France has led to long tailbacks of freight trucks in southern England, and has disrupted passenger travel in the run-up to Christmas.

Member states want to get their own nationals home from Britain, and resume freight shipments, but they still want to discourage “non-essential” travel.

The Commission recommended, therefore, that coronavirus tests be carried out on passengers within 72 hours of travel — although “transport staff” should be exempted.

“Transit of passengers, especially for essential travel, should be facilitated without quarantine,” it said.

“A test can be required, but authorities need to inform about such requirement in advance or offer testing during the journey,” the statement said.

British Home Secretary Priti Patel told Sky News that British and French authorities are in talks on setting up testing centers in ports.

Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said: “Member states should take coordinated action to discourage non-essential travel between the UK and the EU.

“At the same time,  blanket travel bans should not prevent thousands of EU and UK citizens from returning to their homes.”

France decided late Sunday to suspend all arrivals from the United Kingdom for 48 hours over the new strain that has resulted in a third lockdown for London and much of southeast England.

Other EU countries have instituted flight and train bans, and Germany has already extended its ban until January 6.

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