EU countries urged to halt non-essential travel from India


People wearing protective face masks wait to receive their second dose of COVISHIELD, a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India, outside a vaccination centre in Kolkata, India, May 12, 2021. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union's executive on Wednesday called on countries of the bloc to temporarily halt non-essential travel from India, to limit the spread of a COVID-19 variant.

The European Commission said its proposal followed the World Health Organisation's proposal on Monday to reclassify the B.1.617.2 variant of COVID-19 found in India as a "variant of concern", raising the alert from a "variant of interest".

EU countries should apply an "emergency brake" on non-essential travel from India, it said in a statement.

"It is important to limit to the strict minimum the categories of travellers that can travel from India for essential reasons and to subject those who may still travel from India to strict testing and quarantine arrangements," it added.

Last week the Commission proposed that the EU's 27 member states ease COVID-19 travel restrictions from June to allow foreign travellers from more countries to enter the bloc, while keeping the option to quickly restrict travel from countries where the health situation deteriorates sharply.

The member states have not yet adopted this recommendation but could individually opt to ban non-essential travel from India before it is adopted.

India's coronavirus death toll crossed 250,000 on Wednesday in the deadliest 24 hours since the pandemic began and experts around the world have expressed concern the variant first identified there may be highly transmissible.

The European Commission said limited exemptions should apply to its proposed halt to travel from India, including to those travelling for "imperative family reasons" or EU citizens and long-term residents.

Those travellers should face additional health measures on arrival in the EU, such as strict testing or quarantine requirements, it said.

(Reporting by Kate Abnett; editing by John Chalmers and Philippa Fletcher)

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