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EU adopts new traffic light system for travel; airlines slam it as a 'failure'

Countries will be labelled green, orange or red based on their incidence of Covid-19 under the recommended system, but it is unclear how and when they will opt in


Airplane at night. Photo: Deposit

Airplane at night. Photo: Deposit

Airplane at night. Photo: Deposit

EU member states today agreed to sign up to Europe's new 'traffic light' system for international travel.

The proposal was adopted at a meeting of the EU General Affairs Council, but is non-binding and leaves much of the detail up to member states.

Under the system, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) will produce a weekly map designating countries as green, orange or red based on their reported test positivity rates and rolling, 14-day averages of Covid-19 cases per 100,000 of the population.

Green countries will show a 14-day rate of less than 25 per 100,000, as well as test positivity rates below 4pc.

Orange countries will either have a 14-day rate of below 50 but a test positivity rate of 4pc or higher, or a 14-day notification rate of 25 to 50 and test positivity rate of less than 4pc.

Red will mean a caseload of 50 and above and a test positivity rate of 4pc or higher, or a 14-day rate that is above 150.


Source: Council of the European Union

Source: Council of the European Union

Source: Council of the European Union

Member states should not restrict the free movement of people travelling to or from green areas, the Council says, but can decide for themselves what restrictions to apply to those from orange and red countries.

Such restrictions could include quarantine or testing, it adds.

The news comes in a week that Ireland's interim 'Green List', which is based on rates of 25 or lower per 100,000, was reduced to zero countries - highlighting a resurgence of Covid-19 in Europe.

Ireland's own 14-day incidence is 162.6, placing it firmly in the red category.

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In a joint statement, Aviation bodies ACI Europe, Airlines for Europe (A4E) and IATA slammed the Council's "failure" to recommend the outright replacement of quarantines with testing.

This "effectively means borders remain closed" and threatens millions of jobs in travel and tourism, the statement said.

The airline representative groups added that the new system brings no certainty for travellers, as member states need only provide notice of new restrictions 24 hours before they come into effect.

"The inability of the Council to go beyond shallow coordination and establish a truly harmonised and workable framework is now beyond any doubt," the statement said.

Speaking ahead of today's meeting, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said: "On international travel, Ireland has already indicated our intention to align with this recommendation and we are working on plans to implement its provisions."

It remains unclear, however, when and to what extent Ireland will opt into the system and replace the interim 'Green List'.

“Green will be green, there’s no doubt about that, but amber and red may be treated differently by different countries, whether it’s testing or restricted movements,” Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said.

An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, has also indicated that travel restrictions may last well into 2021.

Despite widespread calls for a rapid Covid-19 testing regime to assist with the safe resumption of travel, there have been no updates on that front either.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said the Government is working on bringing in airport testing, but that there is not capacity in the health service to cover this.

The European Commission is also seeking to develop an EU testing protocol for travel.

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