EU plan looks to reopen borders for summer tourism amid pandemic


The Italian national flag hangs from the balcony of the French Embassy in Rome, March 27, 2020. (Photo: AP)

BRUSSELS, May 13 (Xinhua) -- The European Commission offered a tourism and transport package on Wednesday, aiming to provide guidance for the European Union (EU) member states to gradually lift the internal travel restriction and reopen tourism, two months after strict measures were introduced to contain COVID-19.

The package included an overall strategy towards future recovery, a common approach to restoring free movement within the EU, a framework to support the gradual reestablishment of safe transport, a recommendation aiming to help protect consumers' rights concerning canceled trips due to the pandemic, and criteria for restoring tourism activities while ensuring health safety.

The guidance was made to "offer people the chance to get some well-needed rest, relaxation and fresh air," and to allow people to visit their friends and family within the EU, said the commission in a statement.

It also aimed to help EU tourism, one of the hardest-hit sectors, to recover from the pandemic by supporting businesses. Meanwhile, a stated intent was to ensure that Europe continues to be the prior destination for local visitors.

"You don't know what you've got until it's gone. And I think this is the case with the free movement," said Ylva Johansson, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, referring to the border controls introduced by a number of EU member states at an earlier stage of the pandemic despite the discouragement from health authorities.

Most of the controls are still valid until mid-May, according to a Commission website monitoring the situation.

Appearing at a joint video press conference on Wednesday, Johansson proposed the common approach that comprises three stages. In phase zero, transport, frontier, posted and seasonal workers should be allowed to access their work. In phase one, smooth transit should be facilitated for professionals and for personal reasons as well as for tourism. In phase two, travel for all purposes should be permitted throughout the bloc.

Although giving no timing for entering phase one, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides said that a coordinated approach should be taken by starting "lifting restrictions between areas or Member States with sufficiently similar epidemiological situations."

She gave some criteria as preconditions for reopening travel that include assuring epidemiological evidence, sufficient health system capacity being in place for local people and tourists, robust surveillance and monitoring and testing capacity and contact tracing.

"This summer will not be a summer like all the others, and we're going to have to adapt to the new reality," Kyriakides told reporters.

She called for a responsible way of easing the restrictions: "We mustn't ever forget all the sacrifices that citizens have been taking for the last few months in terms of the change in their everyday life."

The Commission reassured its support for the tourism industry and offered to promote patronage voucher schemes through which consumers can support their favorite local tourism businesses. It would also promote lesser-known European destinations.

"It is likely that due to the recent epidemic crisis, domestic and intra-EU tourism will prevail in the short-term," said the Commission.

The Commission said it will organize a European tourism convention, as soon as health circumstances allow.