Moving towards EU-wide traffic light system for travel

Moving towards EU-wide traffic light system for travel

The plan is to gradually and safely open up travel again across the EU.

The Government is currently working towards the adoption of an EU-wide traffic light system that aims to gradually open up travel across the EU in the coming months.

Under the proposals, different countries would be ascribed a particular colour — green, orange, or red — depending on the incidence of Covid-19. This plan is being fine-tuned at EU level, with the expectation that it will be ready for roll-out following a favourable decision at the EU’s General Affairs Council meeting on October 13.

In the meantime, the Government’s green list system still applies and its advice about travel overseas hasn’t changed: "Given the current domestic and international situation, the safest thing to do is not to travel abroad."

Accepting, though, that some people have to continue to travel internationally, the Government is "asking passengers who arrive into Ireland to restrict their movements to limit the potential of importing Covid-19 and infecting their families, communities, and workplaces".

Essential travel is permitted, even with restrictions. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Essential travel is permitted, even with restrictions. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

That’s unless the place they’re travelling from is on the green list. There are now seven countries on the list: Cyprus, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. People arriving from these locations are not asked to restrict their movements but should "follow the public health advice that applies to everyone in Ireland".

On September 15, the Government agreed that the green list would be updated on a weekly basis. Inclusion will require a cumulative disease incidence rate per 100,000 of 25 or less, based on the latest data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDPC). Updates will be made on the basis of data each Thursday, with changes taking effect from the following Monday.

However, while we may have these countries on our green list, this does not me that we are on theirs. So if you are considering travelling, it’s vital to make yourself aware of any restrictions in place in your destination country.

Take Cyprus for example. Instead of a green list, they’ve got three lists, labelled A, B, and C. Ireland is currently on the B list, which means that in order to avoid restrictions when they arrive into the country, travellers from Ireland will have to produce a lab test — no older than 72 hours — certifying a negative result for the virus.

Note too that the general advice against non-essential travel includes Britain but does not apply to Northern Ireland.

Based on the data provided by member states, the commission proposes that the ECDPC publish a map of EU and EEA countries, updated weekly, with a common colour code.

Colour codes

Green for an area where the total number of newly notified Covid-19 cases is less than 25 during a 14-day period and the percentage of positive tests from all Covid-19 tests is less than 3%. This approximates the criteria for our existing green list.

Orange for an area where the total number of newly notified Covid-19 cases is less than 50 during a 14-day period, but the percentage of positive tests from all Covid-19 tests is 3% or more. A country will also be designated orange if the total number of newly notified Covid-19 cases is between 25 and 150 but the percentage of positive tests from all Covid-19 tests is less than 3%.

Red for an area where the total number of newly notified Covid-19 cases is more than 50 during a 14-day period and the percentage of positive tests from all Covid-19 tests is 3% or more. And a country will also be designated red if the total number of newly notified Covid-19 cases is more than 150 per 100,000 people during a 14-day period.

In addition to these three colours, there will also be grey if there is insufficient information available to assess the criteria or the number of Covid-19 tests carried out per 100,000 people is less than 250.

Less prescriptive

How to deal with passengers from each of the designations? The commission is a little less prescriptive here.

According to a bulletin issued earlier this month: "Where justified, member states could consider recommending that persons travelling from an area classified as ‘orange’ undergo at least a Covid-19 test prior to departure or upon arrival. Member states could require persons arriving from an area classified as ‘red’, ‘orange’, or ‘grey’ to submit passenger locator forms, notably those arriving by airplane, in accordance with data protection requirements."

The bulletin adds that travellers with an essential function or need — such as workers exercising critical occupations, frontier, and posted workers, students or journalists performing their duties — should not be required to undergo quarantine.

The commission also proposes a common approach among member states when dealing with travellers coming from ‘high-risk’ zones outside the EU. They suggest that people travelling from these areas be classified as ‘red’ or ‘grey’, and could be required to either undergo quarantine a test — the latter being the preferred option.

Challenge to restrictions

The other issue with a possible impact on restrictions is Ryanair’s High Court challenge against the travel measures introduced by the Government. The court is expected to rule on this challenge early next month.

Ryanair has said that travel restrictions introduced by the Government in response to the Covid-19 pandemic are outrageous, confusing, and detrimental to both the public and businesses. The airline claims the measures are unlawful and amount to a disproportionate interference of it and its passengers' rights. In its action against the Taoiseach, Ireland, and the attorney general, the airline seeks various orders and declarations including one setting aside the measures announced in late July.

The State parties oppose the action and say the measures announced are "not mandatory but are advisory in nature". It claims that Ryanair has no legal basis to bring its challenge against the measures.

Ryanair claims the restrictions are unconstitutional and breach various health acts, the European Convention of Human Rights, and the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. The State, meanwhile, says the Covid-19 travel advisory notice in relation to non-essential travel is necessary, proportionate and transparent. The measures, it adds, are designed to deal with what is a global health emergency.

In its ongoing agitation against the green list, Ryanair published a spoof job ad earlier this week. In a tweet, the airline said: "We have been exclusively retained by the Irish Government in their search for a Junior Cert/Transition Year Student who will have sole responsibility for compiling Ireland’s Green list on a weekly basis." Listed under ‘job responsibilities’, the post went on: ‘Compile Ireland’s Green list based on the following games: Bingo, The Lotto (Euro Millions), Pin the donkey to the tail (in this case, the country), Scrabble, Darts (each number represents a country and you only have six darts each week), Snap, Charades."

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