EU warns differing virus measures put free travel at risk


BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union warned member countries Thursday that they risk undermining the 27-nation bloc’s COVID-19 travel and…

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union warned member countries Thursday that they risk undermining the 27-nation bloc’s COVID-19 travel and access certificate system with new restrictions that some are putting in place to try to thwart a surge in cases.

EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said there is “an obvious risk that differing approaches between countries could endanger confidence in the COVID certificate system, and harm free movement in the Union,” The bloc relies on free movement of people and goods for business and travel to flourish.

The World Health Organization says coronavirus infections jumped 11% in Europe in the last week, the only region in the world where COVID-19 continues to rise. The WHO’s Europe director, Dr. Hans Kluge, warned that without urgent measures, the continent could see another 700,000 deaths by the spring.

Many countries have begun tightening rules on people who are not vaccinated to try to encourage them to get shots to better halt the spread of the virus. Austria even plans to make vaccines obligatory from next February.

As winter closes in and coronavirus restrictions are ramped up, tens of thousands of people have rallied around Europe in recent weeks in protest against the tightening of measures and against the requirement for COVID-19 certificates.

The EU’s COVID pass contains proof that the holder has either been vaccinated, has in the past recovered from the disease, or has recently tested negative.

But some German states are now demanding proof of vaccination and daily negative tests. From next month, Italy will require proof of vaccination or having recovered to access a host of free-time activities over the holiday season. Tests will no longer be enough.

“Holders of (an) EU certificate should, in principle, not be subject to additional restrictions, wherever they come from in the European Union. Restrictions such as additional tests or quarantine, for instance,” Reynders, the justice commissioner, told reporters.

The commission, the EU’s executive branch, says scientific evidence shows that vaccine immunity begins to diminish after about 6 months. But it’s recommending that certificates should continue to be accepted as valid for 9 months after the first shot.

Some countries want booster shots to be mandatory for the certificates to be valid. France, for example, wants to require them on certificates for people over 65, while neighboring Belgium does not think it’s necessary yet.

“The commission is not proposing any period of validity for boosters at the moment,” Reynders said.

___

Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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Travel news: Britons face ‘huge queues for holidays’ under EU rules | UK | News


The European Commission has outlined plans to introduce a new European Travel Information and Authorisation Scheme (ETIAS) as well as an Entry/Exit System (EES) for non-EU citizens by the end of next year. The ETIAS scheme will require passengers to apply for permission to travel to the Schengen Area at a cost of €7 (£6).

The Schengen Area is made up of 26 countries and includes popular holiday destinations such as Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Portugal.

The EES system forms part of additional security measures and will register the person’s name, type of the travel document and biometric data such as fingerprints and captured facial images.

The House of Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee has written to Home Secretary Priti Patel to raise concerns about the plans.

Peers warned under the EES system passengers “will be required to undergo border checks that are likely to cause sustained delays and disruption”.

It says: “After filling in an online application form, the system will conduct checks against EU information systems for borders and security and, in the vast majority of cases, issue a travel authorisation within minutes.

“In limited cases, where further checks on the traveller are needed, the issuing of the travel authorisation could take up to 30 days.

“The ETIAS travel authorisation will be a mandatory pre-condition for entry to the Schengen States.

“It will be checked together with the travel documents by the border guards when crossing the EU border.”

The scheme has been in the pipeline since a “Stronger and Smarter Information Systems for Borders and Security” report was published in 2016.

Britain ended freedom of movement after the end of the Brexit transition period.

UK nationals can currently travel to the EU without a visa and stay for up to 90 nights over a 180-day period.





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France Imposes Stricter Travel Restrictions for Unvaccinated Arrivals From 16 EU Countries


Travellers from 16 European Union Member States who haven’t been vaccinated against the Coronavirus yet are now subject to stricter entry restrictions when travelling to France.

Updating the rules of entry from the EU and abroad, the French Government has clarified that unvaccinated travellers from the following countries now need to test for COVID-19 within the prior 24 hours before reaching France, after these countries “have been placed under surveillance”:

  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • the Czech Republic
  • Estonia
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Ireland
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • the Netherlands
  • Romania
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia

Before November 12, travellers from the majority of these countries could present the results of a PCR or antigen test certificate taken within the last 72 hours. The rule has not changed for unvaccinated travellers from the rest of the EU and Schengen Area countries that are not listed above.

>> Travelling to France Amid COVID-19 – Everything You Need to Know

Those who aren’t vaccinated, but have recovered from COVID-19 recently, are exempt from the requirement to submit a test result, no matter from which EU or Schengen Area country they travel to France.

Minors under the age of 12 are also exempt from the requirement to be tested before reaching France.

The decision comes at a time when the majority of EU countries are facing a spike up in the number of COVID-19 cases in their territory, in spite of the high vaccination rates throughout the block. Even the EU health agency, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (EDCD), had recommended less travel to these countries.

On November 12, France has also removed Ukraine from its green list and added it to the red list of countries.

This means that non-vaccinated travellers, and those who haven’t recently recovered from COVID-19, can travel from Ukraine to France only for absolutely essential purposes. The same are obliged to present test results of a PCR or antigen test taken within the last 48 hours before reaching the country. Upon arrival, the same are also subject to a ten-day quarantine period.

However, vaccinated travellers and those who have recently been ill with COVID-19 can enter by only proving their status, including for non-essential purposes like tourism, and without being subject to quarantine obligation.

>> France Recognises 5 COVID-19 Vaccines for Travel

The decision to add Ukraine to the red list follows a recommendation of the EU Council to the Member States to impose more restrictions on Ukrainian travellers upon an increase in the number of COVID-9 cases in this country.



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Migrants Say Belarusians Took Them to E.U. Border and Supplied Wire Cutters


SULAIMANIYA, Iraq — The sudden surge of migrants to Belarus from the Middle East that is now the focus of a political crisis in Europe was hardly an accident.

The government of Belarus loosened its visa rules in August, Iraqi travel agents said, making a flight to the country a more palatable journey to Europe than the dangerous sea crossing from Turkey to Greece.

It increased flights by the state-owned airline, and then actively helped funnel migrants from the capital, Minsk, to the frontiers with Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.

And Belarusian security forces gave them directions on how to cross into the European Union countries, even handing out wire cutters and axes to cut through border fences.

These moves, which European leaders have characterized as a cynical ploy to “weaponize” migrants in an effort to punish Europe, opened the gates to people desperate to flee a region plagued by instability and high unemployment.

Now, thousands of people are stranded or hiding along the border in freezing conditions, not wanted by the European Union countries or, circumstances are making clear, by the country that lured them there in the first place.

The human tide has turned cities like Sulaimaniya, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, into bustling ports of departure for migrants eager to take an expensive and risky journey for the chance of a better life in Europe.

As word went viral on social media that Belarus offered a route into Europe, the number of migrants snowballed.

Mala Rawaz, a travel agent in Sulaimaniya, said he had been selling about 100 packages a week for trips to Belarus. The packages included airfare through a third country, transit accommodation and a Belarusian visa.

At the city’s bazaar, Bryar Muhammad, 25, was doing a brisk business on Thursday selling warm clothes.

“Good clothes for Belarus!” he shouted, holding up thick acrylic sweaters and winter jackets pulled from a cardboard box. “For the snow of Belarus!”

Even as young families in Iraq were putting up their homes as collateral to raise money for the journey, evidence mounted that Belarus’s autocratic leader, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, was orchestrating the migration to manufacture a crisis for the European Union.

The Belarusian state-owned airline, Belavia, had increased flights from the Middle East to Minsk, European officials said. The Belarusian authorities eased the issuance of visas through the state-owned travel agency Tsentrkurort, according to the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry.

Migrants who reached Minsk were put up in at least three government-owned hotels, according to Latvia’s defense minister, Artis Pabriks, and Franak Viacorka, a senior adviser to a Belarusian opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

Mr. Pabriks said that Belarusian intelligence agents had been involved in transferring migrants to the borders, and that military buses were used.

Several Iraqi migrants said that the Belarusian security forces provided them with tools to break through the Polish border fence.

Bayar Awat, an Iraqi Kurd stranded on the Belarusian side of the Polish border, said that Belarusian guards had helped his group reach the border by pointing out a route that bypassed the official border crossing and emerged near a gap cut in the border fence.

“The Belarus police guided us to the forest, then pointed directions to lead us inside the forest to keep us away from the official border crossing,” he said.

On Thursday, a Belarusian soldier was overheard on the phone ordering an Iraqi Kurd to direct a group of 400 to 500 migrants from the Lithuanian border toward the Polish border.

“All the people who move here go to Brest,” the soldier told him in broken English, referring to the Belarusian city on the Polish border, because there were too many migrants on the Lithuanian border.

When some migrants have tried to leave the frigid forest to return to Minsk, many have been pushed back by Belarusian guards, leaving the migrants stuck at the border, they said.

European officials say that these measures are part of Mr. Lukashenko’s effort to retaliate against the European Union for imposing sanctions after he claimed victory in a disputed 2020 election.

“Lukashenko’s rhetoric, the visa policy and the sudden influx of migrants this summer all point to the involvement of the Belarusian state and travel agencies,” said Gustav Gressel, a Berlin-based senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

On Friday, in an effort to stem the crisis, several airlines took steps to limit the number of people flying to Belarus from the Middle East. Travel agents in Iraq said that Turkey and Iran had begun canceling tickets to Minsk for Iraqi, Syrian and Yemeni passengers on Thursday, and that the government had stopped travel agents from selling even transit tickets to Belarus earlier in the week.

But that mattered little to desperate Iraqis, who were already finding alternate routes through Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

“I have heard that the situation is not good in Belarus, but I have to go because there is no life here, no job opportunities, no human rights, no equality and justice, no joy at all,” said Amer Karwan, a carpenter who went with three friends to a travel agency in Sulaimaniya on Thursday to pick up tickets they hoped would get them to Belarus.

Mr. Karwan, who turned 20 on Thursday, had borrowed $3,500 from a relative for the trip. He said the group was undeterred by the travel agent’s warning that the tickets through Iran and Turkey were nonrefundable and that there was no guarantee they would make it to Belarus.

Ironically, the biggest source of migrants, the semiautonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq, is considered the most stable and secure region of the country.

Unlike many of their parents who became refugees during Saddam Hussein’s era, this time the Iraqi Kurds are not fleeing war or genocide. They are seeking a future that even the country’s relative peace has not provided them.

Despite Iraqi Kurdistan’s outward prosperity, young people especially despair over the lack of jobs, and over the corruption, repression and tribal conflicts that often override the legal system.

They are taking out loans and borrowing from family members to make the trip.

The crisis has raised the price of visas to Belarus, which used to cost about $90 and now cost about $1,200. Most migrants said they were paying about $3,000 for packages including the visa, airfare and a few days’ accommodation.

Many migrants also leave thousands of dollars on deposit with currency transfer shops to send to smugglers who promise to get them to the border. Several said the smuggling fee was about $3,000. But often, the migrants said, the smugglers do nothing more than point out which direction to walk through the dense forest.

That is to say nothing of the emotional costs a migrant faces leaving home and family behind.

On Friday, Mr. Karwan, dressed in a new olive-green winter jacket and gloves, left home to take a taxi to the airport in Erbil, four hours away.

Seeing him off in Sulaimaniya, Mr. Karwan’s mother and two sisters stood at the gate sobbing. His father thrust Iraqi dinars into his hand and waited until the taxi door closed before wiping away tears.

“I feel terrible,” said his mother, Bayan Omar. “He is my only son. If I stop him from leaving, what would he do? He tells me, ‘Can you guarantee me a house, a car, a life, the chance to get married?’ I cannot stop him.”

Later that day, Mr. Karwan’s flights through Tehran and Istanbul were canceled. He was waiting in Erbil to be rebooked through Dubai.

For those who have already made it to Belarus, the situation is grim. At the border with Lithuania, several thousand migrants were pushed up against razor-wire fences, prevented from moving forward or going back.

Young men and families with small children who had walked for days through the deep forest were huddled around makeshift camps, burning wood to try to keep warm, according to videos sent by the migrants. Some had small pop-up tents, others buried themselves in sleeping bags on the freezing ground.

On Saturday, Polish authorities accused Belarusian soldiers of destroying part of a border fence near the village of Czeremcha and of trying to distract Polish frontier guards with laser beams and strobe lights, so as to help migrants cross into the European Union. The Polish account of events, however, could not be confirmed because the government in Warsaw has barred all nonresidents, including journalists and doctors, from entering the border area.

At least nine migrants have died in Poland over the past two weeks, most from exposure, according to Polish officials. Belarus has not said how many have died on its side of the frontier. Polish media reported on Thursday that a 14-year-old Iraqi boy had frozen to death near the border in Belarus.

“We have food and water but not enough,” said one Iraqi Kurd, who asked to be called by his nickname, Bahadino. He sent videos showing pregnant women and small children, some of them disabled.

He also sent a video of himself and a small group of migrants politely holding a cardboard sign reading, “Poland — Sorry.”

“Today we apologized to the European Union and to Poland,” he said. “You know because we came to the border and we broke the fence at the border. We apologize for that.”

But he had no apologies about trying to get into Europe. He said he had no plans to return to Iraq.

Jane Arraf reported from Sulaimaniya, Iraq, and Elian Peltier from Brussels. Sangar Khaleel and Barzan Jabar contributed reporting from Sulaimaniya, and Andrew Higgins from Warsaw.



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CDC Says to ‘Avoid’ These EU and Caribbean Destinations in Latest Travel Guidance




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Spain Is Now the Safest EU Destination: Here’s What You Should Know Before You Travel There


The latest update of maps by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has shown that Spain is currently the safest European Union destination to travel to amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Based on the figures that have been published by ECDC, the majority of Spain’s territory is coloured green, which makes the country a safe destination for those who want to travel there during the autumn and winter breaks, SchengenVisaInfo.com reports.

Currently, all of the following regions of Spain are placed on the green list:

  • Galicia
  • Asturias
  • Cantabria
  • Basque Country
  • La Rioja
  • Castile and Leon
  • Extremadura
  • Andalusia

Such categorisation has been made since all of the above-mentioned regions have identified less than 50 COVID-19 infection cases per 100,000 inhabitants during the last couple of weeks and have had a test positivity rate of not more than four per cent.

As for the other regions, they are all placed on the orange list since they have registered slightly higher numbers of Coronavirus infection cases. Nonetheless, they still remain safe for travel.

Taking into account that almost the whole territory of Spain has managed to keep low infection rates, travel to and from the country is not discouraged, especially for those who have already been vaccinated or recovered from the virus.

However, it is highly advised that everyone checks the country’s entry rules before planning a trip in order to avoid any inconvenience.

Spain has its own categorisation of countries based on their risk, which is updated every week. Currently, the majority of EU countries/regions are part of Spain’s high-risk list, including Germany, Austria, Belgium, Greece, Cyprus, Croatia, Slovenia, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Iceland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Denmark, among others.

In last week’s update, the Spanish authorities announced that the entry rules have been tightened for Greece, Denmark, Czechia, Liechtenstein, and several other EU regions.

In line with the current rules that Spain has, travellers who reach the country are required to present a valid EU Digital COVID-19 Pass or another equivalent document.

More precisely, they need to show a vaccination certificate indicating that the holder has been immunised with one of the vaccines that Spain recognises for travel or a recovery certificate indicating that the holder has recovered from the virus during the last six months.

>> Which COVID-19 Vaccines Are Approved for Travel to Spain

Those who are unable to present a vaccination or recovery certificate can provide a negative COVID-19 test result taken recently in order to be permitted entry to the country.

Except for the requirements mentioned above, travellers are also required to fill in a Health Control Form, which can be completed and signed electronically.

Previously, Spain’s Association of Airlines revealed that the country expects to register increased numbers of flights during the upcoming months. The figures are anticipated to surpass the number of flights registered during the same period in 2019.



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EU Could Further Ease Travel Restrictions for the Vaccinated


Europe is looking to make travel easier for those who are vaccinated.

European Union countries are working to agree on how to ease pandemic travel restrictions within and into the bloc as vaccination levels increase, according to Bloomberg.

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The report noted that the EU could scrap its traffic light system and allow vaccinated travelers to travel freely using a digital Covid passport.

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Reopening from COVID-19

The EU digital Covid allows travelers to cross borders without having to take tests or quarantine and shows if a person has been fully vaccinated or has recovered from Covid-19.

“Given the very sizable impact on the exercise of free movement, persons traveling within the EU should in principle no longer be required to quarantine save for very exceptional situations (e.g. new variants of concern),” the European Commission proposal says.

There is a secondary proposal that refines the data used to produce the traffic light ratings and would encourage the implementation of more standardized rules for handling travelers in each zone.

The proposal also preserves the use of the “emergency brake” if new variants emerge.

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E.U. weighs covid travel restrictions on American tourists, U.S. says avoid Europe


The possibility of a review looms as U.S. authorities are urging Americans to avoid much of western Europe. On Monday, the State Department issued “Do Not Travel” advisories for France and Iceland, citing the virus levels in those countries, which are similar to U.S. rates. Officials had already attached that highest-level warning to Britain, Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.



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