France to impose Covid testing on EU travellers

France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, has announced new coronavirus rules for travellers from the EU, with France requiring European visitors as well as those from outside the bloc to have a negative Covid-19 test performed less than three days before they enter the country. 

The new restrictive measures, to come into effect from Sunday morning, were announced by the Elysée Palace late on Thursday and follow an EU summit by videoconference at which leaders discussed measures to control the pandemic with continuing vaccination programmes and controls on free movement.

Until now, Mr Macron had sought to maintain freedom of movement within Europe, but pressure on hospitals and the spread of new, more infectious variants of the virus have convinced him of the need to extend testing to almost all those crossing national borders. Many EU leaders were taking the same approach as Mr Macron, the Elysée said.

Charles Michel, European Council president, said after the meeting that EU member states might need to impose fresh restrictions on non-essential travel even though they are seeking to avoid border closures in the bloc. 

Leaders discussed the new variants of the coronavirus that have begun circulating and “are aware of just how serious the situation is”, Mr Michel said after the call.

Brussels wants to develop new maps identifying virus hotspots in the EU, said Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president © Olivier Hoslet/Pool/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

While indiscriminate travel bans needed to be avoided, new co-ordinated measures might be required to contain the spread of the virus, he said, alongside steps to better track the mutations. 

Brussels wanted to develop new maps identifying so-called dark-red zones within the EU which are particular virus hotspots, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said at a press conference after the call.

Travellers seeking to leave those areas could have to take a test beforehand and undergo quarantine, under suggestions to be proposed by the commission. 

Non-essential travel should be “strongly discouraged”, Ms von der Leyen added, but she insisted that the EU needed to maintain flows of goods through the single market and permit movements of essential workers. 

The leaders’ call also discussed the need to accelerate the vaccination rollout. Member states differed over controversial proposals from Greece for the introduction of vaccination certificates to ease travel for those who have received a course of jabs.

The French government said it remained very cautious about the immediate application of vaccine certificates — or passports. There was a lack of data about the infectiousness of those vaccinated, it said, with only a small proportion of people so far inoculated, and unresolved technical questions about how such certificates would be produced and verified.

France said “essential” journeys would be exempt from its new testing requirements, but did not immediately define what counted as essential. Lorry and train drivers and cross-border commuters would also be unaffected. 

One of the infectious new variants of the virus now spreading rapidly was first identified in England by the UK’s extensive gene sequencing programme. Mr Macron said France was now also developing its own sequencing capabilities and suggested that Europeans should pool their efforts to help track the development of the pandemic.

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