EU plans to open borders to vaccinated tourists from outside bloc
The European Union should open its external borders to vaccinated travellers from non-EU countries, the EU Commission has proposed, but entry should be restricted if there are outbreaks of dangerous Covid variants.
The EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced on Monday the bloc's plan "to revive the tourism industry and rekindle cross-border friendships".
"We propose to welcome again vaccinated visitors and those from countries with a good health situation. But if variants emerge we have to act fast: we propose an EU emergency brake mechanism," said Von der Leyen.
The EU is trying to push a coordinated response across the 27 member states to allow for tourist travel from non-EU countries, which was effectively banned in March last year.
However border policy is decided on by each member state and finding common ground in this area has proved difficult.
But there is increasing pressure to open up from certain European countries such as Greece and Spain which depend heavily on tourism.
"The Commission proposes to allow entry to the EU for non-essential reasons not only for all persons coming from countries with a good epidemiological situation but also all people who have received the last recommended dose of an EU-authorised vaccine," said the EU Commission statement on Monday.
The vaccines licensed for use in the EU so far are Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.
The EU also plans to allow in holidaymakers - even those who are not vaccinated - from countries with low infection rates such as the UK.
The Commission said: "In addition, the Commission proposes to raise, in line with the evolution of the epidemiological situation in the EU, the threshold related to the number of new COVID-19 cases used to determine a list of countries from which all travel should be permitted. This should allow the European Council to expand this list."
Currently only seven countries are deemed to have low enough infection rates to allow non-essential travel. They are: Australia, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and China.
The Commission says growing evidence that vaccination helps to break transmission chains supports the argument to reopen borders to tourists from non-EU countries.
Last week the EU parliament backed the Commission's plan for "EU Covid-19 certificates" that travellers would need to prove they are either fully vaccinated, recovered from Covid and therefore have antibodies or tested negative before travel.
The Commission's proposal would have to be backed by the European Council and then it will be for member states to implement the measures.
However Brussels remains concerned about the potential for new virus variants to wreak havoc and wants to avoid a situation whereby countries have to re-introduce tight lockdowns due to renewed outbreaks and increased pressure on hospitals.
"The emergence of coronavirus variants of concern calls for continued vigilance," said the Commission. Brussels says states should be allowed to close their borders to tourists from outside the EU at short notice to stem outbreaks.
"Therefore as counter-balance, the Commission proposes a new ‘emergency brake' mechanism, to be coordinated at EU level and which would limit the risk of such variants entering the EU. This will allow Member States to act quickly and temporarily limit to a strict minimum all travel from affected countries for the time needed to put in place appropriate sanitary measures."
This is what the EU Commission proposes:
- Member States should allow travel into the EU of those people who have received, at least 14 days before arrival, the last recommended dose of a vaccine having received marketing authorisation in the EU (Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson&Johnson).
- If Member States decide to waive the requirements to present a negative PCR test and/or to undergo quarantine for vaccinated persons on their territory, they should also waive such requirements for vacccinated travellers from outside the EU.
- Member States could consider setting up a portal allowing travellers to ask for the recognition of a vaccination certificate issued by a non-EU country as reliable proof of vaccination.
- Children who are excluded from vaccination should be able to travel with their vaccinated parents if they have a negative PCR COVID-19 test taken at the earliest 72 hours before arrival area.
Several EU member states have already announced their own plans for reopening, including France which proposes allowing all vaccinated tourists from outside the EU from June 9th, and Spain which is talking to the UK government directly about access for British tourists this summer.