EU split on reopening Europe to countries with virus

A computer screen with the main web page of the official European Union website "Re-open EU" for information on the re-opening of Europe, as countries lift travel restrictions that were taken as a measure to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, caused by the novel coronavirus. (AFP)
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Updated 26 June 2020

EU split on reopening Europe to countries with virus

  • Non-essential travel to the bloc has been banned since mid-March and the restrictions are to be gradually lifted starting July 1, as the pandemic recedes
  • Whatever is decided in Brussels will stand only as a recommendation since border control remains a national competence

BRUSSELS: EU member states are divided over whether to continue to exclude travelers from countries struggling with the coronavirus, such as the United States, when reopening Europe’s borders on July 1.
On Friday, diplomats were still locked in a days-long series of talks on drawing up criteria for reopening borders, with some countries worried about the reliability of coronavirus data, notably from China.
But with their economies in freefall from the pandemic, Greece, Spain, France and other top tourism destinations are hoping to salvage at least some of the summer holidays and open the door to visitors.
Countries highly dependent on tourism “want to reopen ASAP for as many as possible,” an EU diplomat told AFP.
“The others are reticent to move fast to save eight weeks of tourism season, however important it may be.”
Non-essential travel to the bloc has been banned since mid-March and the restrictions are to be gradually lifted starting July 1, as the pandemic recedes — at least in Europe.
Greece, however, has already reopened airports to travelers from several countries beyond Europe, including China and South Korea, and capitals will eventually make their own decisions.
“A European agreement is essential,” said Spanish government spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero.
“We want an agreement and to avoid health risks. If a country allows entry, there is free movement. We urge that an agreement be reached now, quickly and shortly before 1 July.”
Whatever is decided in Brussels will stand only as a recommendation since border control remains a national competence and governments can in the end go their own way.
For travel purposes, Britain still counts as a member of the European Union until the end of its post-Brexit transition period. Four non-EU countries are members of the bloc’s Schengen passport-free zone.
Some EU members want to limit the reopening to countries with an epidemiological situation “comparable or better” than that in the bloc — that is with 16 or fewer cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 inhabitants over the past two weeks.
If that criteria is confirmed, and if the members agree that other countries’ reporting is accurate — travelers from the United States, Brazil and Canada would remain banned.
Those arriving from China, Japan, Australia, Morocco, Venezuela, India, Cuba and the Balkans would be welcome.
However, the health-based criteria has collided with geopolitics, with some countries reluctant to ban the US while welcoming visitors from China, where the pandemic began.
One possible scenario would see the list updated every two weeks, allowing for a swift removal of banned countries as the pandemic evolves.
The United States is currently the country most affected by Covid-19 with more than 121,000 deaths — while Europe believes it has passed the peak of its own outbreak.
More than 2.3 million cases have been detected in the US and several states in the south and west experiencing powerful outbreaks.
Asked about the reopening of transatlantic travel, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday said Washington was “working with our European counterparts to get that right.”
“We’ve denied travel to Europe and vice versa. That’s the posture that we all sit in now and I think we’re all taking seriously the need to figure out how to get this open,” Pompeo told a forum.


Sri Lankan leader appoints Cabinet, state ministers

Updated 13 August 2020

Sri Lankan leader appoints Cabinet, state ministers

  • Spotlight on economy, security as 67 officials take oath in palace ceremony

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa administered the oath of office to 28 new Cabinet ministers and 39 state ministers on Wednesday during a swearing-in ceremony at the Kandy Royal Palace, a week after the Aug. 5 general elections.

“The Cabinet has been formed in a pragmatic and a realistic manner to implement the national program. Special attention was paid to national security, economic development, infrastructure, education, health and sports,” a Presidential Secretariat statement said.

While President Rajapaksa retained the defense portfolio, his brother, Namal Rajapaksa — the 34-year-old son of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa — was named minister for youth and sports.

Several senior politicians, including former president Maithripala Sirisena, were left out of the new Cabinet.

The ninth parliament is set to meet on Aug. 20.

Only two members from minority communities, Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda and Justice Minister Ali Sabry, were appointed from the Tamil and Muslim communities, respectively.

“I’m delighted to get this portfolio in recognition of my services to the nation, particularly to the legal field,” Sabry said.

He is the second Muslim justice minister to assume office after Rauff Hakeem of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress.

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party, led by PM Rajapaksa, polled 6,853,690, or 59 percent of votes, and secured a total of 145 seats in parliament, including 17 of the National List seats.

Sabry said government efforts to limit the coronavirus pandemic had “impressed the nation enough to vote them into power.”

Lawyer Razik Zarook said: “It’s a great victory for the Muslim community. The era of mistrust and suspicion is over, and the foundation is laid to build the bridges of friendship and amity.”

However, international political lobbyist Muheed Jeeran told Arab News that though the Cabinet is promising, it is “full of confusion.”

“Sabry’s appointment has disappointed the nationalist group who want to implement one nation, one law,” he said.

“But it is a joyful moment for Muslims who supported the SLPP. However, it will be difficult for Sabry as justice minister. Will he become the wooden handle of the axe to chop the tree of traditional Muslim laws as per the nationalist agenda, or will he stand for Muslim rights?”