The second phase of the Covid-19 pandemic "it makes no sense" to close borders again within the European Union, Portugal's secretary of state for European affairs has told members of parliament.
In the current, second phase of the Covid-19 pandemic “it makes no sense” to close borders again within the European Union and “there is no point” in closing them, Portugal’s secretary of state for European affairs has told members of parliament, calling instead for a focus on coordination and cooperation between member states.
Ana Paula Zacarias, speaking in a committee hearing on Thursday focussed on the conclusions of last week’s European Council, explained the recommendation adopted by the leaders of the 27 states, establishing criteria for possible restrictions on movement within the EU.
The issue was front and centre during the “first phase” of the pandemic, with several EU member states banning travellers from other countries they considered to be a risk, but on criteria that varied from country to country.
From the time of the European Council on 15 and 16 October, Zacarias explained, “a Council recommendation was finally issued to the member states establishing criteria to be taken into account whenever there is the possibility of imposing restrictions on freedom of movement.” This is a recommendation and so not mandatory but “has much greater political weight in terms of existing coordination,” she stressed.
“The criteria defined are the cumulative rate of notifications over the last 14 days, that is, the number of new cases identified per 100,000 population over the last fourteen days, the positivity rate of the screening tests, that is, the percentage of positive screening tests in all tests carried out in the last week, and the screening rate, that is, the number of tests carried out per 100,000 population over the last week,” she explained.
These criteria are the ones used “to define the famous red, green and yellow zones, and also the measures that are considered to restrict free movement, as well as the high-risk zones that have to undergo a quarantine period.”
Zacarias stressed, however, that “in this second phase it makes no sense to close borders” given that “we are all getting worse” where it comes to confirmed case numbers.
“Some countries even declare that they have lost control of their chains of contagion,” she said. “In these circumstances is it worth closing the borders? It is not worth it; what we all have to do is work together to improve the situation.”
The secretary of state pointed to the need for “mechanisms to bring about more cooperation”, citing examples from the first phase of the pandemic such as patients being transferred from France or Italy for treatment in Germany or doctors being sent from Romania to help with the effort in Spain or Italy.
“I really think that European citizens look at Europe and will see Europe in one way or another as we respond to this issue,” she said, adding that while health is an area for which member states are themselves responsible, the EU has “an increased responsibility” for coordination and cooperation.
Zacarias also argued that it was “extremely important” to “anchor public policies in science” in order to “give credibility to public health measures” which would allow “the establishment of strict criteria … accepted by all.
“Because if this is not the case, if it is not science at the forefront, misinformation will come, ideas will come that bring nothing good to the work we have to do”, she warned.