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Coronavirus: EU agrees traffic light system for travel amid COVID-19 second wave

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By Marta Rodriguez Martinez  & Gregoire Lory  with AFP
People wear masks by the Trevi Fountain in Rome
People wear masks by the Trevi Fountain in Rome   -   Copyright  AP Photo

The EU has approved a traffic lights system for travel within the bloc, in an attempt to provide clarity for travellers amid a resurgence of coronavirus throughout the region.

The European Council adopted common criteria for restrictions at a meeting in Luxembourg on Tuesday, although several member states abstained.

Under the agreement, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) will publish a weekly map of the regional situation in EU countries, with a colour code based on the risk level: Green, orange, and red.

The information is available on the Re-Open EU website, where users can search for specific countries to see whether borders are open, and what restrictions may be in place, as well as links to the country’s epidemiological information.

The traffic light colour of a given region will depend on the number of new cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the last 14 days and the rate of positive tests.

A fourth colour, grey, is provided for areas where there are insufficient data or where the number of tests carried out per 100,000 inhabitants is considered too low.

According to the recommendation, travellers coming from an orange, red or grey zone may be required to undergo quarantine and/or screening on arrival.

Those coming from a green zone are not subject to any measures.

Member states should not refuse entry to their territory to travellers coming from another EU country - which Hungary is currently doing, while making some exceptions for Czech, Polish and Slovak citizens.

In a statement the European Commission said: “We welcome this agreement to bring more order to a currently confusing situation. The coming together of member states sends a strong signal to citizens and is a clear example of the EU acting where it absolutely should. We have learned our lessons: we will not surmount the crisis by unilaterally closing borders, but by working together.”

It added that it wanted member states to now provide the necessary up-to-date data so the traffic light system can be updated monthly.

'Essential step forward'

France’s Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune, welcomed the agreement as an “essential step forward in an area that has too often been left to isolated and uncooperative national initiatives”.

However, not all countries were in agreement. Jean Asselborn, the minister from Luxembourg, which abstained, said the agreement needed to be “completed and deepened” by adding other criteria, including number of tests, results, mortality rate, hospitalisations and the number of intensive care beds.

He claimed his country was being “punished” for its policy of large-scale testing.

The colour-coded system will work as follows.

Red: High risk, more than 50 cases per 100,000 people with 4% test positivity, or more than 150 cases per 100,000 with less than 4% test positivity

Orange: Medium risk, more than 25 cases per 100,000 people with 4% test positivity, or between 25 and 150 cases per 100,000 with less than 4% test positivity

Green: Low risk, less than 25 cases per 100,000 people with less than 4% test positivity