EU in travel talks as US toll hits 200,000

EU countries are trying to agree on common travel restrictions among the 27-member bloc.
EU countries are trying to agree on common travel restrictions among the 27-member bloc.

EU countries have agreed to better co-ordinate travel restrictions in the 27-member bloc amid a resurgence of the coronavirus as the death toll in the US surpassed 200,000 and Indian officials urged caution ahead of the country's festive season.

In March, several EU countries closed their borders in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus even though the EU's Schengen agreement allows residents to move freely between countries without visas.

The action blocked traffic and medical equipment.

Tuesday's meeting, the first in-person gathering since February, did not produce immediate concrete results but Michael Roth, the German minister for Europe representing Germany's rotating EU presidency, said all ministers committed to the principles of Schengen to avoid a repeat of the travel chaos.

"A virus has no passport, a virus does not care about a national passport. It's important that we co-ordinate better than we have done in the past," he said after ministers discussed recommendations from the EU's executive commission and the German presidency.

"What is very important from the point of view of the commission is to return as soon as possible to a normal functioning of the single market, to remove all the barriers that have been created during the COVID crisis, and also give assurances to our citizens that we will very soon be getting things back to normal," European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic said.

Several EU countries dealing with a second wave of virus infections have imposing local lockdowns and restrictions on public and private gatherings.

The European Commission has proposed that member countries agree on common criteria and thresholds for putting travel restrictions in place.

The commission suggested that EU governments take into account the total number of new confirmed cases per 100,000 people in a given area in a 14-day period, the percentage of positive tests during a seven-day period and the number of tests carried out per 100,000 people over the same period.

It also proposed colour-coded risk categories - green, orange, red and grey.

Those arriving from an area classified as red or grey, for example, would be required to "either undergo quarantine or undergo a COVID-19 test after arrival - COVID-19 testing being the preferred option".

The United States' coronavirus death toll surpassed 200,000 on Tuesday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

The grim milestone comes nearly seven months after the US announced the first confirmed fatality from the coronavirus in late February.

The US has the highest number of fatalities in the world, as well as one of the worst figures on a per capita basis, though differing methodologies across countries make comparisons inexact.

While the US has less than 5.0 per cent of the world's population, it accounts for about 20 per cent of the known deaths from the virus.

The country also leads the world by far in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases, at more than 6.8 million, followed by India and Brazil.

Globally, more than 31.32 million people have been reported to be infected by the coronavirus and 964,365 have died.

Indian health officials on Tuesday urged citizens to celebrate the upcoming festive season without large gatherings.

The month of October has many festivals celebrated in the Indian subcontinent including Diwali - a festival of lights celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and others.

Dr VK Paul, who heads a COVID-19 task force in India, said people need to exercise physical distancing and ensure they wear masks while celebrating.

He said large gatherings provide the perfect circumstances for the virus to spread.

India confirmed 75,000 coronavirus cases and 1000 new deaths in the last 24 hours.

India has reported a total of 5.5 million cases and almost 89,000 deaths.

Australian Associated Press