The European Union is expected to recommend lifting the ban on nonessential travel for visitors from the United States on Friday, opening for American tourists just in time for the summer season, which is crucial to the economy of many members of the bloc.
On Wednesday, ambassadors of the E.U. countries indicated their support for adding the United States to the list of countries considered safe from an epidemiological point of view, a bloc official confirmed. The decision is expected to be formally adopted on Friday and would come into effect immediately.
In principle, all travelers from countries on the safe list, not just citizens or residents, would be allowed to enter the bloc for nonessential reasons, such as tourism or visiting family, even if they are not vaccinated, without any further restrictions. The European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, recommended that a PCR test should be required, but it is ultimately up to national governments to set out the specific rules, including any need to quarantine.
The move is part of a broader attempt to restore tourism flows within and from outside the European Union. Travel from outside the bloc was practically suspended last year to limit the spread of the coronavirus, with the exception of a handful of countries that fulfilled specific criteria, such as low infection rates, number of tests performed, and their overall response to Covid-19.
Until today, the list, which has been updated on a regular basis, contained a relatively small number of nations, including Australia, Japan and South Korea. China fulfilled the quantitative criteria, but the lifting of entry restrictions is subject to reciprocity. Albania, Lebanon, North Macedonia, Serbia and Taiwan would also be added to the list, and the requirement for reciprocity dropped for the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macau.
The European Commission recommended last month that all travelers from third countries who were fully vaccinated with shots approved by the European Medicines Agency or by the World Health Organization should be allowed to enter without restrictions, a policy switch that was first reported by The New York Times.
The loosening of travel measures was enabled by the fast pace of vaccination in the United States and by the acceleration of the inoculation campaign in Europe, and bolstered by advanced talks between the authorities on how to make vaccine certificates acceptable as proof of immunity from visitors.
But health policy in the European Union is ultimately the province of the national member governments, so each country has the right to tailor the travel measures further, including possibly adding more stringent requirements, regardless of the decision on Friday.
Some countries that are heavily dependent on tourism, such as Greece and Spain, did not wait for a continentwide policy and moved in March to reopen to external travelers.
The further opening of the European Union comes as the bloc finalizes work on a Covid certificate system, which is supposed to become operational on July 1. Seven member countries started issuing and accepting the certificate ahead of schedule at the beginning of this month. The document records whether people have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, recovered from illness or tested negative within the past 72 hours, and it would eventually allow those that meet one of the three criteria to move freely across the 27 member countries.
Travelers coming from outside the bloc would have the opportunity to obtain a Covid certificate from an E.U. country, the European Commission said. That would facilitate travel between different countries inside the bloc, but would not be a prerequisite for entering the European Union.