REVIEW - EU Leaders Shy Away From Border Closures Despite Fears Of Viral Mutations

BRUSSELS (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 22nd January, 2021) EU leaders have agreed to limit non-essential travel but stopped short of closing borders to avoid a repeat of the chaos prompted by unilateral border closures at the height of the first coronavirus wave last year.

The decision was announced after the EU virtual summit on Thursday as frustration grew over the spread of more contagious strains of the virus, which has claimed over 2 million lives globally.

This comes after months of warnings by national health authorities, experts and politicians across the EU about cross-border transmission linked to tourist and business travels within the 27-nation bloc and with the countries outside.

While individual member states say that they strongly recommend against travel, you can book a week in the Balearic Islands, Madeira or elsewhere and expect very few controls when you come back. In most cases, very few flights are controlled although their number is very limited, a Sputnik correspondent says.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has proposed color-coding areas of the bloc as "homogeneous epidemiological zones" from red to green, deepening on the number of coronavirus cases.

She pointed to the region around Luxembourg, which could include the red zone of Luxembourg itself, but also regions in France, Germany and Belgium whose population commutes between the regions to live and work and where the pandemic situation is identical.

"A decision must first be taken to work in zones rather than in member states categories... Discouraging strongly non-essential travels is one of the means; testing requirements is another. These are two measures in a basket that the member states can choose depending on what the color zone is that you are looking at," she said.

"In order to keep the internal and external borders of the Union open, we must have targeted measures: we could test before departure in the EU and apply quarantine upon return. Non-essential travel must be strongly discouraged to keep the flow of workers with essential functions crossing borders smoothly within the EU," von der Leyen said.

The restrictions on travel will remain strictly at the national level. European Council President Charles Michel told the press conference that a blanket closure of European borders would not restrict the spread of the virus.

In Belgium, Deputy Prime Minister Pierre-Yves has argued in favor of banning all non-essential travel abroad until March, after seeing Belgians bring the virus back home from ski resorts during the first wave of the pandemic.

"We absolutely want to avoid this, especially with regard to the variants that we discover on European soil. The desire is to ban tourist travel and leisure activities and to ensure that the efforts made by the Belgians which are bearing fruit are not swept aside by those who have taken vacations abroad," he said on national radio.

All other European countries have taken measures to control the spread of the virus, mostly by mandating coronavirus tests before entering their territories and quarantines of seven to 14 days, depending on the country of origin.