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Common EU policy could ease travel restrictions in Finland

The Commission proposed a traffic light model with higher case limits per 100,000 residents than Finland's current system.

Hoitohenkilöstöä ja laivamatkustajia terveysneuvontapisteessä Länsiterminaalissa Helsingissä 17. elokuuta 2020.
A coronavirus advisory point at Helsinki's West Harbour. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

An EU Commission proposal to harmonise rules on the freedom of movement among member states during the coronavirus pandemic could soften current travel restrictions in Finland if it is adopted.

The European Commission said on Friday that it had adopted a proposal for a Council Recommendation to ensure coordinated action and clear communication by Member States on travel restrictions at the EU level.

According to the Commission, coronavirus-related restrictions should be based on common criteria and thresholds. The proposal for a joint approach to travel restrictions recommends assessing countries in which authorities perform more than 250 coronavirus tests per 100,000 residents per week.

It has suggested that member states should not restrict arrivals from other EU countries if the number of new Covid-19 cases in the country of origin is fewer than 50 per 100,000 residents during a two-week period, or if the proportion of all positive test samples is lower than three percent.

Finnish guidelines currently stricter than EU proposal

Finland’s coronavirus-era international travel policy is currently guided by a traffic light model, in which countries are designated as green -- safe for cross-border travel -- if they have a maximum of eight to 10 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents. For green zone countries, the Commission’s proposal would allow an upper limit of 25 cases per 100,000 people in two weeks or no more than three percent positive results out of the total number of tests performed.

The Commission would apply an orange light to areas with a maximum of 50 cases in 100,000 people, while red-light regions would have more than 50 cases per 100,000 residents. Regions where insufficient data is available would be allocated to a grey zone.

According to the Commission’s model, member states should not deny entry to their own nationals and other EU citizens as well as their family members. Meanwhile, travellers coming from red or grey zones would either have to quarantine or submit to a coronavirus test upon arrival.

The proposal would not require people travelling due to an essential assignment or necessity to quarantine.

Wide variations in restrictions

The EU Commission said that there are currently wide variations among EU member states in terms of how freely citizens can move around the bloc.

"We must avoid further disruption of already fragile economies and additional uncertainty for citizens who have made huge sacrifices. They expect this from us after so many months living with Covid-19," Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides said in a statement on Friday.

Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders described the current state of affairs in which various countries had different guidelines as a "cacophony of national rules".

"We are proposing straightforward criteria, applicable without discrimination, which are easy to follow by Member States and allow to inform Europeans properly," he declared in the same statement.

The Commission’s proposal will next be considered by a council comprising representatives of member states.

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