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Border closures, pre-travel tests of little use against COVID-19 spread: EU agency

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Border closures do little to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the European Union’s public health agency said, as EU states weigh lifting some travel restrictions imposed at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in Europe.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said measures such as testing travellers before departure or temperature screening on arrival are also largely ineffective, though it confirmed that travelling facilitates the spread of the virus.

The ECDC said in a report released late on Tuesday that border closures had very negative effects on the economy and were effective only in delaying an epidemic at its beginning and in isolated regions.

“Available evidence does not support recommending border closures, which will cause significant secondary effects and societal and economic disruption in the EU,” which normally operates open borders among member states, the agency said.

The European Commission, the EU executive arm, recommended in April an easing of travel restrictions first between areas of low contagion, encouraging some governments to reopen borders selectively with countries they deemed safer.

But the ECDC report said epidemiological data may not be reliable since European countries do not use a common approach to testing and case reporting, making it impossible to compare the spread of the epidemic.

The agency also said that forcing people to undergo a test before travelling may only be of limited value as the traveller may become infectious just before departure or during travel due to the virus’ two-week incubation period.

As for screening temperatures on arrival, it said, travellers may already be infectious but without a fever.

Questionnaires filled by travellers on their health conditions could offer additional useful information but present data protection risks, the ECDC said, reiterating that immunity certificates issued after antibody tests were not reliable.

Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; Editing by Gareth Jones

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