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People wearing face masks to protect against coronavirus, walk in downtown Madrid, Spain, Tuesday, May 26, 2020, as the lockdown continues. Image Credit: AP

MADRID: Spain on Tuesday urged its European Union partners to set up common rules, including potential health checks for passengers, to open borders and reestablish freedom of travel in the Schengen Area as national coronavirus lockdowns are phased out.

“We have to work with our European partners to define the common rules that will allow us retake freedom of movement on European territory,” Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez said on Cadena Ser radio station. Even though EU countries have set different dates for reopening borders, there must be common principles and rules throughout the Schengen Area to open internal borders and set up rules for external borders, she said.

In a discussion paper submitted by Spain to a Future of Europe consultation process between EU member states, Madrid also called for the monitoring of tourists’ health via individual checks as part of a common EU-wide procedure. “It would be appropriate to consider, in coordination with UNWTO and WHO, options for health checks, either upon the purchase of tickets or at the airport itself, should the results of those checks be available within a reasonable time frame,” read the document, seen by Reuters. “The definition of a safe and operational passenger transit system is key to restoring the normality of tourist flows in a sustainable manner,” it said. A diplomatic source told Reuters that one of the options being considered was to test passengers before boarding. Spain on Monday urged foreign holidaymakers to return from July as it eases one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns.

Germany aims to lift travel warning

Germany meanwhile said it aims to lift a travel warning for 31 European countries from mid-June, a government source said, and media reported that social distancing rules imposed to avoid the coronavirus could be eased from June 29, a week earlier than planned.

German regions are in talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel on how to further relax restrictions introduced in March to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. An initial easing of measures does not seem to have caused a significant spike in infections.

Balancing the need to revive Europe’s biggest economy — which faces its deepest recession since World War Two — with protecting public health, Germany’s 16 state premiers will try on Wednesday to agree with Merkel on the way forward. She has counselled caution, warning of a new wave of infections if curbs on contact and movement are eased too fast.