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EU nations set to adopt common travel rules amid pandemic

European Union countries are set to adopt a common traffic light system to coordinate traveling across the 27-nation bloc

BRUSSELS — European Union countries are getting ready to adopt a common traffic light system to coordinate traveling across the 27-nation bloc, but a return to a full freedom of movement in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic remains far from reach.

When the virus struck in March, several EU countries decided to close their borders to non-citizens without talking to their neighbors, creating huge traffic jams and slowing down the delivery of much-needed medical equipment.

The cacophony, which also played havoc with millions of tourists caught off guard by the virus, prompted the EU’s executive arm to push for a more unified approach. The EU commission last month came up with proposals that have been discussed and amended before their scheduled approval by EU nations on Tuesday.

“This new system will make things easier for citizens. I am glad that we found this solution together,” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

The key measure is a common map of infections drawn up by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. It will sort European regions into green, orange and red zones according to the severity of coronavirus outbreaks, taking into account new confirmed cases per 100,000 people and the percentage of positive tests.

Under the latest proposal, red zones should be areas where COVID-19 cases are more than 50 per 100,000 people during a 14-day period and the percentage of positive tests reaches at least 4%. Regions with a lower positive rate but where the total number of cases is more than 150 per 100,000 will also be classified red.

In light of the very high level of infections across the continent, it means that most of the bloc should be classified as red or orange.

The harmonization stops short of providing common rules for the EU’s orange and red zones. Travelers from green areas won’t face limits on their journeys, but national EU governments will continue to set their own restrictions such as quarantines or mandatory testing upon arrival for people coming from orange or red zones.

EU countries have yet to come up with a unified length of self-isolation following an exposure to the virus, but they did agree to mutually recognize test results in all

Is it safe to travel for the holidays in 2020 during the pandemic?

(CNN) — The end of the year is sneaking up, and people are weighing travel plans to join friends and family for the holidays — all against the backdrop of a deadly pandemic.

Gathering with others — probably the most universal holiday tradition — has never required so much meticulous forethought.

Should you travel for the holidays in 2020? What precautions will make it safer? Who will be there and how careful have they been?

CNN spoke with medical experts on how to reduce the risks around holiday travel and when you really should skip it altogether.

Should you travel for the holidays this year?

“Probably not, if you are anxious or vulnerable,” says Dr. Richard Dawood, a travel medicine specialist and director at Fleet Street Clinic in London.

But traveling is fine if you’re willing to be cautious, follow the rules and adapt easily to changes of plan, he said.

There's a lot more to consider when planning holiday travel in 2020.

There’s a lot more to consider when planning holiday travel in 2020.

Daniel Slim/AFP/Getty Images

“I think the threshold for travel at this time should still be higher than before the pandemic,” says Dr. Henry Wu, director of Emory TravelWell Center and associate professor of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

“If you do choose to travel, try to keep gatherings small and take precautions,” such as wearing a mask and practicing social distancing and good hand hygiene, Wu said.

Who should skip it?

“Are you older, are you frail, do you have chronic underlying illnesses?” are the questions to ask, says Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

People who are considering meeting up with vulnerable relatives or friends should really weigh the implications of introducing illness to them, Wu said.

“There are well-documented Covid-19 clusters associated with family gatherings, including ones that resulted in deaths,” he said.

Driving is not without risks,  but your interactions with others can be more easily controlled than with air travel.

Driving is not without risks, but your interactions with others can be more easily controlled than with air travel.

Jason Connolly/AFP/Getty Images

Are some locations safer than others?

Gatherings are likely safer in areas around the world where infections remain low, although the standard precautions still apply.

For example, it may be possible to have a “relatively normal” Thanksgiving gathering in parts of the United States where infections are very low, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“But in other areas of the country … you’d better hold off and maybe just have immediate family,” Fauci told CNN’s Chris Cuomo. As always, wear masks and keep gatherings small to reduce the risk of infection.

“I’d like to say that everything is going to be great by Thanksgiving, but honestly … I’m not so sure it is,” he said.

Does testing provide protection?

Testing can help catch coronavirus infections before travel, Wu said,”but testing is not foolproof.”

“It can be falsely negative, or just miss infections you are still incubating,” he said. “You could certainly also get infected during travel

Rapid COVID Testing Coming To Airport Near You, XpresCheck Test Could Boost Air Travel

KEY POINTS

  • XpresCheck rapid COVID tests began at JFK and Liberty airports Wednesday
  • The company hopes to expand nationwide
  • The test delivers results in 13 minutes

The airline industry, devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, is about to get a boost: Health and wellness company XpresSpa Group Inc. began conducting rapid COVID-19 testing at Kennedy International Airport in New York and Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey, with plans to expand the program nationwide.

With the pandemic still raging across the United States, Americans have been reluctant to get on airplanes, with the total number of passengers averaging about 25% of last year’s levels.

More than 7.5 million Americans have been infected by the coronavirus and more than 211,000 have died from COVID-19.

Though the virus doesn’t spread easily on flights because of air circulation systems, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns exposure to people in close quarters and frequently touched services put travelers at increased risk. The CDC estimated last month 11,000 people potentially had been exposed to the virus on flights.

XpresSpa began performing its ExpresCheck rapid COVID-19 tests Wednesday, expanding its polymerase chain reaction and blood antibody testing programs.

“We believe rapid COVID-19 testing at airports can play a major role in slowing the virus spread and decreasing the risk of new community outbreaks linked to travel as cases continue to rise throughout many states,” XpresSpa CEO Doug Satzman said in a press release.

He added: “Having a rapid test inside the airport immediately upon travel could also eliminate the need for a full 14-day quarantine in states where that applies.”

The tests would be voluntary for both travelers and airport workers. The company currently is focusing on airline employees and those who are showing COVID-like symptoms.

The test uses Abbott’s portable rapid molecular ID Now COVID test, which delivers results in 13 minutes. The test, however, has yet to gain full Food and Drug Administration approval although it has been cleared for emergency use, and has been criticized for false negatives, which are possible until an infection has reached its height and depending on how the test is performed.

Even with rapid COVID-19 tests available, travelers would still need to wear masks and practice social distancing.

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