The coronavirus outbreak is a serious threat to public health. Lockdowns and other coordinated restrictive measures are necessary to save lives. However, these measures may also severely slow down our economies and can delay the deliveries of critical goods and services. The European Commission has taken measures to ensure continued and uninterrupted land, waterborne and air cargo services. These services are of crucial importance for the functioning of the EU's internal market and its effective response to the current public health crisis.
Safely resuming travel
On 13 May, the European Commission presented guidelines and recommendations to help Member States gradually lift travel restrictions, with all the necessary safety and precautionary means in place. Measures intended to enable citizens to travel again after months of confinement include, but are not limited to:
Safely restoring freedom of movement and lifting internal border controls
If a generalised lifting of restrictions is not justified by the health situation, the Commission proposes a phased and coordinated approach that starts by lifting restrictions between areas or Member States with sufficiently similar epidemiological situations. The approach must also be flexible, including the possibility to reintroduce certain measures if the epidemiological situation requires. Member States should act on the basis of the following criteria: epidemiological situation, ability to apply containment measures throughout the journey, and economic and social considerations.
Restoring transport services across the EU
The guidelines represent general principles for the safe and gradual restoration of passenger transportation by air, rail, road and waterways. They also contain practical recommendations on, for example, limiting contacts between passengers and transport workers, and the passengers themselves, and on the use of personal protective equipment while travelling. Dedicated recommendations are given for each mode of transport.
Safely resuming tourism services
The Commission set out a common framework which provides criteria for a safe and gradual restoration of tourism activities and the development of health protocols for hotels and other forms of accommodation, to protect the health of both guests and employees. These criteria include epidemiological evidence; sufficient health system capacity being in place for local people and tourists; robust surveillance and monitoring, testing capacity and contact tracing.
Ensuring cross-border interoperability of tracing apps
On 13 May, the EU Member States, supported by the Commission, agreed on a protocol to ensure cross-border interoperability of voluntary contact tracing apps, so that citizens can be warned of a potential infection with coronavirus when they travel in the EU.
Making vouchers more attractive for customers
Under EU rules, travellers have the right to choose between vouchers or cash reimbursement for cancelled transport tickets (plane, train, bus/coach and ferries) or package travel. While reaffirming this right, the Commission recommendation aims to ensure that vouchers become a viable and more attractive alternative to reimbursement for cancelled trips in the context of the current pandemic, which has also put heavy financial strains on travel operators.
Travel advice and Border measures
Travel advice is a national competence and you should check if your national authority, e.g. the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has issued an official travel warning concerning your planned destination. Travel advice is continuously updated as the situation evolves.
According to the latest update (8 April 2020), all EU Member States had prohibited public gatherings, closed (totally or partially) schools and introduced some border/travel restrictions.
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Temporary non-essential travel restrictions
To contain the spreading of the virus, on 16 March, the European Commission recommended to Member States to apply an initial 30 days coordinated restriction of non-essential travel from third countries into the EU. Following the endorsement by EU leaders, all EU Member States (except Ireland) and all Schengen Associated Countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland) are applying this travel restriction. On 8 April, the Commission invited Member States and non-EU Schengen countries to extend the temporary restrictions on non-essential travel to the EU until 15 May. On 8 May 2020 the Commission recommended an extension of the temporary travel restrictions to the EU+ area by another 30 days. This would expire on 15 June 2020.
The lifting of travel restrictions should be phased: as underlined in the Joint European Roadmap on lifting containment measures, internal border controls will need to start being lifted gradually and in a coordinated manner before restrictions at the external borders can be relaxed in a second stage.
The EU+ area includes all Schengen Member States (including Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania) and the 4 Schengen Associated States (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland).
Health screenings and border controls
All relevant border control measures should be coordinated amongst Member States at EU level in order to harmonise the border controls in practise. These exceptional measures are implemented on the principles of necessity and proportionality.
Delays in the delivery of goods can cause critical shortages. The introduced restrictive measures to slow down the spread of the virus have also slowed down transportation across Europe. During this crisis, it is vital to ensure that medicines, protective equipment and other goods can reach hospitals, doctors' practices and nursing homes. That is why the European Commission acted. The European supply chain is maintained through an extensive network of freight transport services, including land, waterborne and air cargo services. Continued and uninterrupted transportation services is of crucial importance for the functioning of the EU's internal market and its effective response to the current public health crisis.
On 16 March, the European Commission issued guidelines for border management measures, striking the right balance between protecting citizens' health, notably travellers and passengers, and ensuring that essential goods and services remain available across Europe.
Asylum, return procedures and resettlement
On 16 April, the European Commission presented guidance on the implementation of EU rules on asylum, return procedures and resettlement. The practical guidance illustrates how to ensure the continuity of procedures while fully ensuring the protection of people’s health and fundamental rights in line with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Measures should be taken to limit social interactions among asylum personnel and applicants, quarantine and isolation measures must be proportionate, reasonable and non-discriminatory, and the current flexibility provided be the EU rules should be used.
The outbreak of the coronavirus has led to disruptions of resettlement and return operations but preparatory activities should continue so that resettlement operations can smoothly resume. Voluntary returns should be prioritised as they present a lower health and safety risk. Close cooperation with third countries on the identification, documentation and return of their nationals should be maintained.
Ensuring the free flow of goods and services
President Ursula von der Leyen said: "Especially in times of crisis, we are all dependent on ensuring that basic supplies are available to the population."
To keep freight moving freely and efficiently across the EU, the European Commission, on 23 March, issued practical advice on the implementation of ‘green lanes’ – border crossings open to all freight vehicles carrying goods where any checks or health screenings should not take more than 15 minutes.
The Commission also calls on EU Member States to support air cargo operations during the coronavirus crisis and presented new guidance to keep essential transport flows moving, including those of medical supplies and personnel.
Ensuring waste shipments across the EU
The Commission issued on 31 March guidance to ensure a common approach is taken in the EU for securing the continuation of waste shipments across the EU via the green lanes. The exceptional circumstances created by the Coronavirus outbreak call for maintaining a high level of public health and environment protection. Intra-EU waste shipments are a key link in the whole supply chain, from waste collection to final treatment. It is essential to prevent and reduce any possible obstacles to cross-border movements of waste within the EU. The guidance is addressed to Member States authorities, economic operators and relevant stakeholder.
Facilitating the free movement of critical workers
To allow for the continued professional activity despite the temporary travel restrictions, the Commission has issued guidelines to facilitate border crossings of essential workers, particularly in the health care and food sector, and other essential services (e.g. health care professionals, personal care workers, food manufacturers and seasonal workers).
Speeding up the recognition of health workers’ professional qualifications
On 7 May, the Commission issued a guidance to Member States to help address the shortages of health workers created by the coronavirus emergency. The guidance will help to speed up the recognition of health workers’ professional qualifications, and clarify the rules allowing doctors and nurses in training to practice their profession. The guidance recommends that Member States speed up procedures to facilitate the mutual recognition of qualifications in line with the ample flexibilities provided by the EU Professional Qualifications Directive. It further clarifies that Member States can request a derogation from the rules on minimum medical trainings requirements in cases where professionals are unable to complete their training due to disruptions caused by the pandemic.
Passenger rights and package travel
Passengers and travellers can be reassured that their rights are protected. Comprehensive information on your passenger rights or when you booked package travel is available on Your Europe, the website for help and advice for EU nationals and their families.
On 18 March 2020, the European Commission published interpretative guidelines on how certain provisions of the EU passenger rights legislation should be applied in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak and thereby ensure clarity and legal certainty in the application of passenger rights.
At the same time, the guidelines clarify that the current circumstances are “extraordinary” e.g., compensation may not be given in case of flight cancellation less than two weeks before departure date.
On 19 March 2020, an information note on the Package Travel Directive in connection with the COVID-19 was also issued.
Under EU rules, passengers and travellers have the right to choose between vouchers or cash reimbursement for cancelled transport tickets (plane, train, bus/coach and ferries) or package travel.
While reaffirming this right, the Commission recommendation of 13 of May 2020 aims to ensure that vouchers become a viable and more attractive alternative to reimbursement for cancelled trips in the context of the current pandemic, which has also put heavy financial strains on travel operators.
You may find a list of all the national authorities that issue travel advice here.
If you have booked a package tour, you may find further information on your rights as set out in the travel package directive here.
Overstay caused by travel restrictions
In the context of the coronavirus outbreak, visa holders present in the Schengen area who cannot leave before the expiry date of their short-stay visa may be extended up to a maximum stay of 90/180 days by the designated Member States’ authorities. If the visa holders are compelled to stay beyond the extended period of 90/180 days, a national long-stay visa or a temporary residence permit should be issued by the national authorities.
Member States are encouraged to waive administrative sanctions or penalties on third-countries nationals unable to leave their territory due to the travel restrictions. Overstays due to the temporary travel restrictions should not be taken into account during the processing of future visa applications.
Consular assistance for EU citizens abroad
As flights are suspended and borders are being closed because of the coronavirus outbreak, many Europeans find themselves stranded abroad.
The European Commission and the European External Action Service help in bringing home stranded EU citizens, while Member States issue advice about how to handle the travel restrictions. EU citizens in need of assistance outside the EU are encouraged to contact their Member State.
Under EU law, citizens are entitled to seek help from the embassy or consulate of any EU country other than their own if they find themselves in a situation where they need assistance outside the EU, with no embassy or consulate from their own Member State effectively in position to help them.
More information about EU citizens’ rights to diplomatic or consular protection outside the EU can be found here.
Advice for consumers in Europe
The European Consumer Centre Network provides advice and assistance to citizens around consumers’ rights on cross-border issues. This includes, but is not limited to, hotel or travel bookings affected by virus. Information on resolving consumer disputes is also available on theResolve your consumer complaint.
Beware of online scams related to products that allegedly can cure or prevent the coronavirus infection. Rogue traders advertise and sell products, such as protective masks, caps and hand sanitizers to consumers, which allegedly prevent or cure an infection but they may be fake.
EU consumer law does not regulate the conditions for and consequences of cancellation of events or individual services (sports and cultural events, car rental, accommodation, etc.). Therefore, your rights as a consumer depend on national contract law and the type and terms of your contract, including the stated cancellation policy of the service provider (e.g. refundable or non-refundable booking).
According to the Unfair Contract Terms Directive 93/13/EEC , standard contract terms used by traders have to be transparent and may not unfairly limit the rights of consumers under the relevant national contract law.
Transportation advice by sector
The Member States and the European Commission are taking resolute action to mitigate the socio-economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the transportation sector, as to ensure the quick and continuous flow of goods across the EU. This includes, but not limited to essential goods such as food and medical supplies.
On 29 April the Commission adopted a package of measures to support companies in the aviation, rail, maritime and road sectors. The package follows action taken to ensure the safety of transport workers, keep travellers informed about their rights and ensure the circulation of essential goods across Europe. The measures aim to ease the regulatory burden and reduce costs for transport companies. For aviation, they address ground-handling services and air carrier licensing rules. For maritime transport, an amendment to the regulation on port charges will provide authorities the flexibility to defer, reduce or lift port infrastructure charges. The Commission also proposed the extension by three months of the deadline by which Member States must transfer some competences, including to the EU Agency for Railways. Finally, the Commission has granted a temporary exemption from EU rules on driving times and rest schedules to 11 Member States, and will approve requests from other 9 Member States.
The continued and uninterrupted land transport is of crucial importance for the functioning of the EU's internal market and its effective response to the current public health crisis.
President von der Leyen has set out four objectives to ensure the continued functionality of freight transport on Europe’s roads:
- First, crossing the border on a ‘green lane’ should take maximum 15 minutes, including any checks or health screenings. General advice at points of entry for public health measures and screening.
- Second, the ‘green lanes’ should be open to vehicles carrying any type of goods. Our supply chains in Europe are closely integrated. We need to ensure the free circulation of all goods.
- Third, national governments should suspend restrictions wherever possible – for instance bans to drive during the weekends or at night. This is an exceptional situation and we need to be flexible.
- Fourth, we need to reduce the paper work for transport workers of all nationalities, to enable them to cross borders more rapidly.
On 23 March 2020, the Commission issued new practical advice on how to keep freight moving across the EU during the current pandemic. Member States were requested to designate, without delay, all the relevant internal border-crossing points on the trans-European transport network (TEN-T) as ‘green lane' border crossings. The green lane border crossings should be open to all freight vehicles, whatever goods they are carrying.
Border crossing times for trucks can be found here.
The coronavirus outbreak is having a major impact on the international and European aviation industry. Under the EU rules, Member States can employ various necessary measures to contain the spread of disease, such as suspending flights from other EU Member States. The criteria for deciding what measures to take should be coordinated across the EU. In particular, it is crucial to maintain transport connections needed to provide the health emergency response.
The European Commission and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) have published several guidance documents related to health and safety during flights for competent authorities, airports, airlines and their crews regarding the coronavirus outbreak. These non-legally binding recommendations on how to detect and manage sick passengers in airplanes and airports are available on EASA page.
Preventing “ghosts flights” and ensuring flexibility for airlines
Air traffic is expected to decline further in the coming weeks. In order to help ease the impact of the outbreak, the European Commission rapidly put forward targeted legislation to temporarily alleviate airlines from their airport slot usage obligations under EU law. This amendment to the EU Slot Regulation has already been approved by the European Parliament and the Council of the EU and will enter into force on 1 April 2020.
Cargo deliveries by air remain crucial for Europe. The European Commission has therefore issued guidance on 26 March 2020 for the continued support of air cargo operations
The measures include inviting Member States to grant temporary traffic rights for additional cargo operations from outside the EU, if restrictions would normally apply. Member States should also temporarily remove night curfews and/or slot restrictions at airports for essential air cargo operations, and enable the use of passenger aircraft for cargo-only operations if necessary. Aircrew flying the aircraft should be exempted from travel restrictions if they do not show symptoms of a coronavirus infection.
Any restrictions incompatible with EU laws must be lifted. The continuation of supply chains via air, especially of highly critical medical supplies, is in the common interest of all.
These exceptional measures will be temporary for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.
As 75% of EU trade and 30% of all goods within the EU are transported by sea, the continuation of maritime transport is vital. Since the coronavirus pandemic first took hold, many have found themselves trapped on board, from cruise ship passengers to cargo vessel crew. The European Commission issued guidelines to support these individuals, providing recommendations on health, repatriation and travel arrangements. They also call on Member States to allow crew changes and create a network of ports where they can take place without delays.
An ad hoc working group of experts from the “EU Healthy Gateways joint action” consortium published advice for preparedness and response to the coronavirus outbreak: