Questions and answers on COVID-19: Travelling

1. What are the travel restrictions in the European Union?

During the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic, in an effort to slow down the spread, many countries applied temporary restrictions on non-essential travel from countries outside the EU by closing borders. Some countries have also applied national border closures and/or border checks at their borders or when moving between different regions at the national level.

These restrictions are subject to a continuous evaluation of the epidemiological situation by countries and they change frequently.

Given the recent appearance of SARS-CoV-2 variants, in order to slow down their introduction, ECDC recommends that non-essential travel should be currently avoided.

If you intend to travel in the EU, check the European Commission Re-open EU web platform containing real-time information on borders, available means of transport and tourism services in the Member States.

2. What precautions should I take if I need to travel?

Standard prevention measures to control the spread of COVID-19 are also recommended during travel. Where appropriate physical distancing is not possible, the use of medical face masks is recommended.

Additional measures include physical distancing (ideally keeping a distance of two metres from others), strict hand hygiene (washing hands with soap and water regularly and/or using alcohol-based hand sanitisers), respiratory etiquette (coughing and sneezing into a tissue or elbow), and the use of face masks in any conveyance or in situations where physical distancing cannot be maintained.

It should be stressed that older people and those with underlying health conditions should take these precautionary measures very seriously. Travellers who develop any symptoms during or after travel should self-isolate; those developing acute respiratory symptoms within 14 days of return should seek immediate medical advice from their national healthcare provider, ideally by phone first.

3. What is the risk of infection when travelling by plane?

The risk of being infected on an airplane cannot be excluded. However, aircraft ventilation systems provide efficiently clean air in the cabin and, in addition, a number of measures have been advised for airports and aircrafts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including guidance on cleaning, disinfection and physical distancing. The Joint guidelines developed by ECDC and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) are the European guidelines that should be adopted by aircraft carriers and airports in the EU/EEA countries and include all the relevant advice.

If it is established that a COVID-19 case has been on an airplane, other passengers who were at risk (usually, if they were seated in the same section of the aircraft with the infected passenger) will be contacted by public health authorities and provided with instruction for quarantine and testing depending on the national protocols. Should you have questions about a flight you have taken, please contact your local health authority for advice.

Publication

COVID-19 Aviation Health Safety Protocol: Operational guidelines for the management of air passengers and aviation personnel in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic

Technical guidance -

Publication

Guidelines for COVID-19 testing and quarantine of air travellers - Addendum to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol

Technical report -

4. Why are people not being checked for COVID-19 at the airport when arriving from areas of local or community transmission?

Many countries in the EU/EEA are implementing entry screening for arriving passengers depending on their place of origin. The screening may be implemented in a different way at airports, ports or ground crossings. 

In general, successful control of the spread of COVID-19 through entry screening is possible only for certain countries (e.g. islands), where the measures for incoming travellers can be implemented very comprehensively. 

One of the travel related measures that ECDC recommends is the use of a passenger locator form (PLF), particularly in digitalised format. PLFs will allow the local public health authorities to track the traveller in the event of contact tracing being necessary. Their use has been adopted by almost all EU/EEA countries and are a requirement for all travellers entering their territories. 

ECDC does not support prioritising travel measures over the public health activities needed in the community such as systematic testing, isolation of cases and contact tracing and quarantine of their contacts. However, If there is no community transmission in a country (if the cases detected in the past 14 days are all imported, sporadic or are all linked to imported/sporadic cases, and there are no clear signals of further locally acquired transmission), some benefit might be achieved by implementing measures at borders. Travel related measures used by some countries may include: 

  • filling in a health declaration form, in which travellers are asked about possible symptoms and exposure to COVID-19;
  • requiring a negative RT-PCR or Rapid Antigen test (RADT) test before arriving at destination or upon arrival;
  • temperature screening upon arrival (with a thermometer or other device). 

In particular, for travellers from areas with higher incidence of the new variants or in case of inadequate sequencing to exclude the possibility of a higher incidence of the new variants, travel measures such as testing and quarantine of travellers should be considered.

More on this topic

How to protect yourself and others