Commission Publishes Guidelines on Border Measures Amid COVID-19 Pandemic
03 April 2020
On 16 March 2020, the European Commission (“Commission”) published Guidelines for border management measures to protect health and ensure the availability of goods and essential services amid the COVID-19 pandemic (“Guidelines”). The Guidelines contain principles for an integrated approach to effective border management for the protection of health while preserving the Single Market. They are divided into five chapters, namely: (i) external borders; (ii) health-related measures; (iii) transport of goods and services; (iv) supply of goods; and (v) internal borders. Some of these areas are likely to be of interest to Hong Kong companies exporting their goods to the EU.
COVID-19 has highlighted the challenge of protecting the health of the population in the EU whilst avoiding disruptions to the free movement of persons, and the delivery of goods and essential services across Europe.
The Guidelines have been published so as to avoid shortages, tackle the challenges EU countries are already experiencing and maintain the functioning of the Single Market. Member States are called upon not to undertake measures that jeopardise the integrity of the Single Market for goods, of supply chains, or engage in any unfair practices. Member States are required to always admit their own citizens and residents and to facilitate transit of other EU citizens and residents returning home. Coordination at EU level will be key when it comes to border management measures.
EU and non-EU nationals, who cross the external borders to the Schengen area are subject to systematic checks at border crossing points. Member States have the possibility of refusing entry to non-resident third country nationals where they present relevant symptoms or have been particularly exposed to risk of infection and are considered a threat to public health. Alternative measures to a refusal of entry such as isolation or quarantine may be applied. Any decision on refusal of entry needs to be proportionate and non-discriminatory.
The Commission notes that appropriate measures need to be taken for people who are identified as posing a risk to public health. They should have access to appropriate health care, having regard to the prioritisation of different case profiles in national healthcare systems.
Some recommended external borders steps for Member States follow:
- Entry screening measures aiming at assessing the presence of symptoms of Covid-19 of travellers arriving from affected areas; completion of a Public Health Passenger Locator Form and completion of a Maritime Declaration of Health , indicating all ports visited;
- Information materials for distribution to travellers arriving from or departing to affected areas;
- Exit screening measures, aimed at assessing the presence of symptoms of Covid-19 of travellers departing from affected countries. Travellers identified as exposed to, or infected with Covid-19 should not be allowed to travel; and
- Isolation of suspected cases and transfer of actual cases to health care facilities.
Most of these measures are to be taken by or under the control of health authorities.
Transport of goods and services
The transport and mobility sector is considered as essential to ensuring economic continuity in the EU. Collective and coordinated action is indispensable and these call for emergency transport services to have priority within the transport system. Control measures should not, according to the Commission, undermine the continuity of economic activity and should preserve the operation of supply chains. Unobstructed transport of goods is crucial to maintain availability of essential goods such as food supplies including livestock, as well as vital medical and protective equipment.
Professional travel to ensure transport of goods and services should be enabled. The facilitation of safe movement for transport workers, including truck and train drivers, pilots and aircrew, across internal and external borders, is a key factor to ensuring adequate movement of goods and essential staff.
Member States may impose restrictions on the transport of goods and passengers on grounds of public health, as long as such restrictions are:
- Duly motivated;
- Relevant; and
Any planned transport-related restrictions need to be notified to the Commission and all other Member States in a timely manner, and, in any event, before implementation.
Supply of goods
Hong Kong traders may especially like to know that Member States have been advised by the Commission to preserve the free circulation of all goods. These should guarantee the supply chain of essential products such as medicines, medical equipment, essential and perishable food products and livestock. No restriction should be imposed on the circulation of goods in the Single Market, especially essential, health-related and perishable goods, unless a restriction is duly justified.
No additional certifications should be imposed on goods legally circulating within the EU single market. Transport workers, especially those delivering essential goods, should be able to circulate across borders and their safety should not be compromised.
Member States should ensure constant provisioning to meet social needs, to avoid panic buying and the risk of dangerous overcrowding of shops.
Member States may reintroduce temporary border controls at internal borders if justified for reasons of public policy or internal security. In an extremely critical situation, a Member State can identify a need to reintroduce border controls as a reaction to the risk posed by the contagious disease. Member States must notify the reintroduction of border controls. Such controls should be applied in a proportionate manner and with due regard to the health of the individuals concerned.
Non-discrimination between Member States’ nationals and resident EU citizens must be ensured. A Member State must not deny entry to EU citizens or third-country nationals residing on its territory and must facilitate transit of other EU citizens and residents that are returning home. Member States can take appropriate measures such as requiring persons entering their territory to undergo self-isolation or similar measures upon return from an area affected by Covid-19, provided they impose the same requirements on their own nationals.
Border controls should be organised in a way that prevents the emergence of large gatherings which risk increasing the spread of the virus. Member States should closely cooperate and coordinate at EU level to ensure the effectiveness and proportionality of the measures taken.