Fully vaccinated US tourists will be able to visit the EU this summer, according to the president of the bloc’s executive body, who spoke to The New York Times on Sunday, more than a year after the coronavirus forced the closure of non-essential travel most countries.
After more than a year of largely prohibiting non-essential travel, the European Commission’s president announced that the bloc would change course, subject to some conditions.
“The Americans, as far as I can see, use European Medicines Agency-approved vaccines,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in an interview with The Times in Brussels on Sunday. “This will enable free movement and the travel to the European Union.
“Because one thing is clear: All 27 member states will accept, unconditionally, all those who are vaccinated with vaccines that are approved by E.M.A.,” she added. All three vaccines currently in use in the United States, namely the Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson shots, have been licensed by the department, which is the bloc’s drug regulator.
Ms. von der Leyen did not include a timetable or specifics about when or how tourist travel would be allowed. Her remarks, however, are a high-level declaration that the new travel restrictions will be changed based on vaccination certificates.
She reported that the US was “on track” and making “huge progress” in its drive to achieve “herd immunity,” or vaccination of 70% of adults, by mid-June.
She went on to say that resuming travel will be contingent on the “epidemiological situation,” but that “the situation in the United States is improving, as it is, hopefully, in the European Union.”
Diplomats from Europe’s tourist destination nations, led by Greece, have been arguing for weeks that the EU’s requirements for deciding whether a country is a “clean” origin based solely on low Covid-19 cases are quickly becoming obsolete, given the success of vaccination campaigns in the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries.
For several weeks, officials from the European Union and the United States have been in technical talks about how to make vaccination certificates from each location broadly readable so that people can use them to travel without restrictions.
The European Union has started issuing “digital green certificates” to its residents, which will state whether the traveler has been vaccinated against Covid-19, has recovered from the disease in recent months, or has tested negative for the virus in recent days. Europeans would be able to use them to fly within the EU without additional limitations, at least in theory.
The European Commission would recommend a change in travel policy based on Ms. von der Leyen’s remarks, while individual member states may reserve the right to maintain tighter restrictions. They can refuse entry to people from outside the bloc or impose restrictions such as quarantines, even for visitors with vaccination certificates.
However, countries such as Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Croatia, which welcome millions of American tourists each summer and depend heavily on them for revenue and employment, are expected to seize the opportunity to reopen to the American tourism market with the EU’s blessing.
Until now, all non-essential travel to the European Union has been prohibited, with the exception of tourists from a small number of countries with low caseloads of the virus, such as Australia, New Zealand, and South Korea.
Small exceptions have been made by some E.U. countries to allow tourists from outside the bloc. For example, Greece announced last week that beginning Monday, it would open its borders to travelers from the United States who can demonstrate evidence of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test.
Visitors from the few countries that are legally allowed to enter the European Union under current law will usually be subject to a variety of conditions imposed on a country-by-country basis, such as passing a coronavirus test and adhering to quarantine rules.
The return of vaccinated tourists to Europe’s beaches and tourist attractions will provide a much-needed financial boost to countries along the continent’s southern rim. And it would signal a tentative and restricted return to anything resembling normalcy for millions of would-be visitors around the world, as well as airlines and the wider travel industry.
It will also illustrate a dramatic shift in Covid-19’s fortunes, from being unpopular in Europe a year earlier, when the pandemic was raging in the United States, to being at the head of the line of global travelers free to resume leisure travel.
However, the return of leisure travel to Europe on a larger scale will illustrate the widening gap between vaccinated and unvaccinated people, both within countries and, more importantly, globally. With India experiencing the world’s highest rate of coronavirus infections, and the global case total for the past week reaching its highest level since the pandemic started, the disparity could become even more jarring.
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