As the rate of Covid-19 infections continues to throw European governments into turmoil, the Portugal’s secretary of State for European Affairs has been explaining why the bloc needs a new approach to ‘free circulation’.
In the early stages of the pandemic, Member States acted independently of each other, bringing in all kinds of rules on citizens’ rights to free movement – many of them causing intense hardship without seeming to make ‘sense’.
Thus the decision last week in Brussels to bring in a ‘set of criteria’ that every country can adopt, bringing order to what in reality became an officialised form of chaos.
It is, in the end, simply a recommendation, Zacarias told MPs, but it has a “much larger political weight in terms of coordination”.
Defined criteria will involve the number of new infections per 100,000 inhabitants registered over the previous 14 days, the percentage of positive tests – and the number of tests performed per 100,000 inhabitants – in the previous seven days.
These criteria will be used to define the famous red, yellow and green zones, as well as consider restrictions on free circulation. They will also be used to determine areas where people may have to comply with a period of quarantine, she said.
“There is no sense in shutting frontiers in this second phase of the pandemic”, she stressed.
“We are all getting worse. Some countries have even declared that they have lost control of chains of contagion. In these circumstances it is simply not worth closing frontiers. We have to work together to improve the situation…”
Cooperation, in other words, is key.
Indeed, Ana Zacarias mentioned episodes in which countries have already worked together (France and Italy have sent patients for treatment to Germany; Romania has sent doctors to help out in saturated hospitals of Spain and Italy).
The pandemic will signal a change in the way citizens view Europe, she said. It all depends on how it is brought under control – and whether science really is seen to be being followed.
“If this is not the case; if science is not put first, disinformation will come and with it ideas that bring nothing good for the work we have ahead of us”, she warned.