8th March 2021
Given the speed with which Covid-19 vaccinations are being administered across Europe and the different schedules for each country, there is a lot of information to digest for those who need to travel overseas, whether for work or leisure purposes. So, what are the latest developments from local health authorities in Europe that will affect international contractors’ travel plans?
International contractor travelling latest
According to a four-page letter seen by Germany’s DPA news agency and as reported on Schengen Visa Info, the EU Commission has urged six member states – Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary and Sweden – to abolish their current border restrictions because they are preventing the free movement of citizens – one of the fundamental tenets on which EU foundations were built. Germany’s border restrictions with Slovakia and the Czech Republic, which the Germans say are “areas of a variant of concern”, were also flagged by the Commission who has requested an explanation as to the criteria selected. Germany has also not granted exemptions to members of foreign governments and the European Parliament.
The initiatives of several EU member States to introduce vaccination certificates has also caused some controversy – in particular the decision by Greece and Israel in early February to enter into a bilateral agreement allowing vaccinated travellers to travel across each country freely without any need to self-isolate. The argument cited by EU sources on the same website is that “we are all in the common Schengen zone”, and so it would not be fair for citizens of other countries to be treated differently (in spite of the fact that currently travel to non-EU countries is banned).
Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Greek prime minister, was among the first to campaign for a vaccination certificate. Leaders of all 27 member states have met to discuss the proposal. No decision has been agreed, with countries split in terms of whether or not to ratify the proposals. Germany and France are among those who are not convinced by the idea; in fact, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel raised concerns as to the efficacy of the vaccinations and the likelihood that the virus could still spread.
Freedom of movement impaired
In other news, Lithuania’s Ministry of Health announced that as of 1st March 2021, it would be introducing more stringent quarantine rules, having looked at infection rates and the impact of new strains of the pandemic. Those travelling for business from the United States will be among those hit with tighter restrictions. Spanish and Portuguese citizens, on the other hand, will face “lighter isolation” according to the statement released by authorities in the country.
Lithuania requires every single person – whether on business travel, frontier workers or students going on foreign visits – to present evidence of a negative Covid-19 test taken within the last 48 hours before entry to the country. It had already previously imposed tighter restrictions for travellers from other countries, including Albania, the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Republic of the Seychelles and Slovakia, where infection rates had spiralled.
Fellow Baltic state, Estonia, has also imposed further bans on countries which have surpassed its infection rate threshold of 150 per 10,000 inhabitants during the past two weeks. This will now mean that citizens of the countries affected will be subject to a freedom of movement restriction, which will last up to 7th March. Countries where this does not apply include Iceland, Greece, Norway, Liechtenstein, Germany, Denmark, Finland and Croatia. Earlier in February, it had also adopted the Automated Border Control (ABC) system to reduce waiting times at its crossings.
Threat of Coronavirus variants
Schengen Visa Info also reports that Spain, Portugal and Madeira have been placed on the ‘red’ list by the Czech Republic’s Ministry of Health, which has banned travel to “countries where there is an extreme risk of contracting Covid-19 since February 26th, especially the South African mutation”. Every individual entering the country will have to show that they tested negative within the past 72 hours. Czech nationals have been warned against leaving their home country if travelling to Botswana, Brazil, South Africa, Swaziland, Kenya, Malawi, Lesotho, Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
To keep the spread of the virus in check, Denmark has also advised its citizens against “non-essential” travel abroad until 5th April. The country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has blocked people coming in and leaving the country since the beginning of 2020. The risks are simply too great, with foreign minister Jeppe Kofod stating that “the infection situation around Europe and the rest of the world is still very serious. Therefore, the time has not come to ease the strict restrictions on entry and exit of Denmark” and that any Easter holiday abroad “unfortunately is not an option”.
Given a new spike in coronavirus infections, Italy has had to impose further restrictions impeding the movement of its citizens across the country’s 20 regions until 27th March. Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government was forced to bring in these new bans to avoid adding to the alarming increase in infection rates. With close to three million people testing positive for the virus, Italy has the eighth largest number of infections in the world (after the US, India, Brazil, Russia, UK, France and Spain) and has been one of the hardest hit by the virus. Health minister Roberto Speranza said, “It is essential to continue with the restrictions with the spread of Coronavirus variants.”
With the detection of new variants causing consternation, European governments are exercising maximum caution by curbing business and travel into and outside their territories. These restrictions are changing all the time, so international contractors travelling abroad or based in another EU member state, must keep up to date and not fall foul of the regulations introduced by their home country’s health authority.
Partnering with an international firm has never been more important for international contractors, not only because of rapidly changing tax compliance matters that need to be adhered to but also the ongoing global travel restrictions.