Europe is considering easing travel restrictions on foreign tourists as early as next month, if they are fully vaccinated or come from a country under Covid control, officials said on Monday.
The European Commission recommends that EU member states agree to restart the bloc’s vital tourism industry in time for the European summer after a season of destruction last year when travel plummeted around the world.
“It is time to revive the EU tourism industry and rekindle cross-border friendships – safe and sound,” tweeted committee chief Ursula von der Leyen.
But there are caveats. Brussels seeks to ensure that the rapid roll-out of vaccination in the EU is not threatened by new virus variants and that there is reciprocity for Europeans traveling abroad.
The commission’s statement said vaccinated people arriving in the EU on “non-essential travel” should have received EU-approved jabs, currently those from BioNTech / Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.
Even if they are fully immune – that is, they have received two doses except the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in one vaccine, and then wait two weeks for them to be fully effective – EU countries may still require Covid testing, quarantine, or even both.
Then there is an “emergency brake” allowing EU countries to stop arrivals from where “a worrying or interesting variant is detected”, such as those which are spreading in Brazil, India and Africa. from South.
“Even vaccinated people would be subject to travel restrictions from these countries subject to this emergency brake,” said a spokesperson for the committee, Adalbert Jahnz.
– Infection rate –
As for how the EU would judge whether other countries are doing a good enough job of curbing Covid, the key metric would be their infection rate per 100,000 people on average over two weeks.
An EU official involved in drafting the recommendation told reporters that an old threshold of 25 infections per 100,000 set almost a year ago would be raised to 100 to reflect “a different reality” due to increase in vaccinations.
Therefore, the EU’s list of acceptable countries could drop from seven at the moment – Australia, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand; and China with a hitherto unsatisfied condition of reciprocity – to many more.
Last week, von der Leyen told the New York Times that she expected many Americans to be able to return to the EU as tourists for the summer, given the U.S. vaccination schedule.
European countries are keen to welcome big-spending US tourists again under relaxed travel restrictions, though the EU official speaking to reporters said the US must first “put order in their own home ”.
He said he hoped to see “a gradual convergence” of the registration of vaccine certificates in the United States to overcome the current fragmented situation of US states issuing many different certificates, which makes verification difficult at the international level.
The International Tourism Organization and the World Health Organization (WHO) were working on a certification that would be accepted globally, he noted.
– British “question mark” –
Closer to Europe, there is a ‘question mark’ over how former EU member Britain, which strained relations with Brussels after Brexit, could benefit from the ‘relaxation of the rules of the bloc.
The EU official acknowledged that “the numbers for the UK are good”, with a vaccination rollout that has been ahead of the EU and a relatively low infection rate.
But, he stressed, there is “the issue of reciprocity”, which will have to be considered collectively by EU member states.
Britain is currently demanding arrivals from countries other than EU member Ireland, with which it shares a common travel arrangement, to quarantine them.
The UK government is due this week to give a list of countries it deems acceptable for travel without quarantine, but is expected to keep many EU countries on its quarantine list.
– Russian and Chinese jabs excluded –
While the European Commission recommendation speaks of vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency, it indicates that other Covid-19 vaccines accepted by the WHO for emergency injections could be added later.
As it stands, however, neither the Russian Sputnik V vaccine nor the one made by China would be included, excluding vaccines used in dozens of low-income countries.
This document will not only show the vaccine status of the carrier, but also recent negative Covid test results and acquired immunity upon recovery from a Covid infection.
© 2021 AFP