Several new proposals to strengthen EU public health protection are expected to be implemented in the coming years, both in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and as planned measures such as the ETIAS visa waiver program.
The European Commission is putting in place several measures to protect European residents and visitors in the future, including proposals to strengthen the European Health Union in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and the implementation of the ETIAS visa waiver for European Schengen Area countries.
This article describes how ETIAS will “contribute to the protection of public health by allowing for an evaluation of whether the applicant offers a high epidemic risk,” as well as how recent revisions in European Union Health regulations will help protect public health across the EU.
PROPOSALS TO BUILD UP THE EU PUBLIC HEALTH POLICY
The European Commission took the first moves toward establishing an unified European Health Union in November 2020, when it submitted a package of EU public health policy reform measures aimed at strengthening the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic and future health catastrophes.
The suggestions aim to strengthen the EU’s health security framework by learning from the coronavirus reaction and ensuring improved readiness and response from key EU institutions such as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the European Medicines Agency (EMA), and FRONTEX.
The European Commission’s President, Ursula von der Leyen, stated that “the coronavirus pandemic has emphasised the need for increased cooperation in the EU, more robust health systems,” and that there must be a shift in “the way we approach cross-border health concerns.”
In her perspective, the establishment of a European Health Union is necessary “to safeguard individuals with high-quality treatment during a crisis, and to equip the Union and its Member States to avoid and manage health catastrophes that affect the entire continent.”
Stella Kyriakides, the Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, has also backed the ideas, stating, “We are reinforcing the foundations for a more secure, better equipped, and more resilient EU in the domain of health.” This will be a dramatic shift in collective response capacity.”
STEPS TO STRENGTHEN EUROPEAN UNION HEALTH LAWS
The European Commission has proposed, in addition to improving EU health crisis and pandemic preparedness:
- Reinforcing EU surveillance by creating an integrated surveillance system using artificial intelligence and other advanced technology
- Improving EU data reporting by required Member States to increase reporting of health systems indicators such as the availability of hospital beds, medically trained staff, and the capacity for specialised treatment and intensive care
- The ability to declare an EU emergency situation to allow for increased coordination and the development, stockpiling, and procurement of products that would aid in the easing of health crises.
Following the coronavirus pandemic, the European Commission recognised that the ECDC’s mandate needed to be strengthened in several areas, including:
- Preparedness and response planning
- Epidemiological surveillance
- The establishment of a network of EU reference laboratories
- The capacity to mobilise and deploy the EU Health Task Force to assist local responses.
Furthermore, the European Medicines Agency’s mandate will be strengthened by increased ability to monitor and respond to the risk of critical medical supply shortages, as well as coordinate studies and clinical trials to monitor vaccine effectiveness and safety.
The European Union’s push to protect public health will be bolstered further when the ETIAS authorization system goes live in November 2023.
HOW DOES ETIAS CHECK THE HEALTH OF VISITORS?
Although health insurance for foreign visitors is not required for third-national residents of the Schengen Area, these nationalities will soon be required to submit an ETIAS application online before leaving to assess their health, among other things.
Travelers applying for the ETIAS visa waiver for Europe must supply basic personal information as well as passport details, including the country of issuance.
Confirming the nationality of visitors to Europe is vital for various reasons, one of which being the capacity to identify persons travelling from locations where a specific disease or ailment is rife.
ETIAS HEALTH QUESTIONS ON THE APPLICATION FORM
Non-EU nationals must answer a number of public health-related questions in order to properly complete the ETIAS application form. Existing medical problems, infectious or contagious parasite illnesses, and infectious or contagious parasitic disorders must be disclosed truthfully.
When you submit your application, your passenger data is automatically routed through several databases. If there is no hit in the system, it means that the applicant is not considered to be a threat to the public’s health or security.
If, on the other hand, a red flag is raised during the automatic pre-screening process, the data will be sent to the ETIAS Central Unit and ETIAS National Units for manual review. At this point, the request may be declined on the basis of wellness.
If conditions change between applying for the authorisation and entering Europe, ETIAS may be revoked or annulled. It should also be noted that ETIAS travellers are advised to have travel health insurance for Europe, even though it is not required, in case they require treatment during their stay.
COULD ETIAS HAVE HELPED STOP THE SPREAD OF COVID-19?
Travel restrictions were most recently encountered during the coronavirus epidemic. COVID-19 has spread to almost every country on the planet, including Europe.
Controlling the new virus includes imposing COVID-19 EU entrance restrictions on third-country people. If ETIAS had already been in effect, it would have been critical in determining the nationality of potential visitors prior to their arrival at the Schengen Area border.
Furthermore, the health-related inquiries would aid in identifying persons who may be infected with the disease and preventing them from crossing the border.
These actions are consistent with one of ETIAS’s primary goals: determining if the applicant offers a high pandemic risk.
If a similar situation arises in the future, it is hoped that the ETIAS pre-screening process would assist to reduce the spread of illnesses from other parts of the world in Europe.