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Dolores Utrilla
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16th March 2020
Consumer, Health & Environment Covid-19 Internal Market

Commission’s Guidelines for border management measures to protect health and keep goods and essential services available during the COVID-19 crisis

Today, the European Commission has presented its guidelines concerning the coordinated management of borders by Member States in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The document focuses on the need to protect health while at the same time preserving the integrity of the internal market, in particular ensuring the availability of essential goods and services (mainly of medical equipment and food) and the free movement of persons.

Protection of health and of free movement of persons

The Commission considers that appropriate measures need to be taken for people at risk of spreading COVID-19, and that these people should have access to appropriate health care, either in the country of arrival or in the country of departure, which should coordinate for this purpose.

As regards controls in external borders, the Commission’s Guidelines set that systematic checks must apply to all EU and non-EU nationals who cross the external borders to enter the Schengen area. Border checks may include health checks and Member States have the possibility to refuse entry to non-resident third country nationals where they present relevant symptoms or have been particularly exposed to risk of infection and are considered to be a threat to public health. Alternative measures to a refusal of entry such as isolation or quarantine may be applied where they are considered to be more effective. Any decision on refusal of entry needs to be proportionate and non-discriminatory.

In particular, the Commission recommends Member States to put in place certain measures concerning controls in external borders, such as entry and exit screening measures to assess the existence of coronavirus, provision of information, refusals to travel for infected passengers, isolate individuals who are suspected cases and transfer actual cases to a healthcare facility.

Concerning internal border controls, the Commission indicates that it is possible to submit everyone entering the national territory to health checks without formal introduction of internal border controls, and that people who are ill should not be denied entry, but given access to healthcare.

The Guidelines admit the temporary reintroduction of internal border controls for reasons of public health or internal security in extremely critical situations. Such border controls should be organised to prevent the emergence of large gatherings (such as queues), which risk increasing the spread of the virus. Member States should coordinate to carry out health screening on one side of the border only. The reintroduction of border controls must be notified to the EU in accordance with the Schengen Borders Code.

All border controls should be applied in a proportionate manner and with due regard to people’s health. For EU citizens, the safeguards laid down in the Free Movement Directive must be guaranteed. In particular, non-discrimination between Member States’ own nationals and resident EU-citizens must be ensured.

The Commission’s Guidelines set out that Member States must always admit their own citizens and residents, and should facilitate the transit of other EU citizens and residents that are returning home. However, they can take measures such as requiring a period of self-isolation, if they impose the same requirements on their own nationals.

Likewise, the Commission indicates that Member States should facilitate the crossing of frontier workers, in particular but not only those working in the health care and food sector, and other essential services (such as child care, care for the elderly, and staff essential for utilities services).

Flow of essential goods and services

The Commission considers that Member States should not undertake measures that jeopardise the integrity of the Single Market for goods, in particular of supply chains, or engage in any unfair practices.

In particular, the Guidelines focus on ensuring the free circulation of goods as a key instrument to maintain the availability of goods, particularly concerning essential goods such as food supplies including livestock, vital medical and protective equipment and supplies. In a similar vein, the Commission stresses the importance of safeguarding the free and safe movement for transport workers.

The Commission indicates that control measures by Member States should not cause serious disruption of supply chains, essential services of general interest and of national economies and the EU economy as a whole. Member States should designate priority lanes for freight transport (via ‘green lanes’). Any planned transport-related restrictions should be notified to the Commission and to all other Member States in a timely manner and, in any event, before they are implemented, without prejudice to the specific rules that apply to emergency measures in the aviation sector.

In particular, the Guidelines require that no additional certifications be imposed on goods legally circulating within the EU single market. It is recalled that, according to the European Food Safety Authority, there is no evidence that food is a source or a transmission source of COVID-19.

The Commission’s Guidelines are available here.

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