EU set to lift non-essential travel curbs for US residents this week
The European Union is set to lift travel restrictions for US residents as soon as this week, in the latest step toward a return to normal despite concerns over the spread of potentially dangerous coronavirus variants.
Portugal, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, proposed adding the US, Albania, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Macau, the Republic of Northern Macedonia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, and Taiwan to a so-called “white list” of countries from which non-essential travel to the bloc is allowed, according to a diplomat familiar with the matter. Assuming no objections, EU government envoys in Brussels will approve the expanded white list on Wednesday, the diplomat said, asking not to be named, in line with policy.
The move will provide a boost for major EU airlines such as Air France-KLM and Deutsche Lufthansa AG, which along with their American counterparts rely on the profitable trans-Atlantic corridors. Long-distance travel has been hit hard by restrictions brought on by the pandemic.
While some EU member states already allow vaccinated Americans to visit, inclusion in the white list means that restrictions will be lifted across the bloc. It also means that member states are free to allow quarantine-free travel from the US independently of vaccination status.
Despite the progress, trans-Atlantic travel won’t be fully open until the US reciprocates and lifts a ban on most EU residents from entering the country.
The expansion of EU’s white list of external countries, which already includes Japan, comes as internal travel within the bloc is being restored for those who are vaccinated or can prove that they have recently recovered from the virus. As of July 1, holders of so-called digital Covid certificates will be able to move freely anywhere in the EU’s 27 member states 14 days after the last shot.
The continued easing of pandemic-induced restrictions in the EU marks a stark contrast with Britain, where prime minister Boris Johnson decided to delay a full reopening for England due to a surge in infections with the delta variant of the coronavirus. The spike in infections, even as the UK has inoculated a larger share of its population than the EU, has alarmed some officials in Brussels.
EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides will tell the bloc’s health ministers in a meeting on Tuesday that they need to fully inoculate as many people as possible as quickly as possible, in the face of mounting evidence that the protective shield of vaccines is weaker against the delta variant, especially for those who haven’t received both doses. Kyriakides will urge ministers to take the threat of more contagious variants seriously, according to an official familiar with the matter.
Still, the number of infections and hospitalisations in the EU keeps falling over the past nine weeks, and with the vaccine rollout accelerating, the EU’s tourism-dependent economies are eager to restore travel and normalcy, ahead of this summer’s season.
EU leaders will discuss the epidemiological situation when they meet in Brussels next week, pledging a “full return to free movement as soon as the public health situation allows,” according to a draft of their joint statement seen by Bloomberg.