EU gears up to reopen borders to vaccinated travellers

Published May 20, 2021
In this file photo, women cross a bridge as the Eiffel Tower is seen background in Paris. — AP
In this file photo, women cross a bridge as the Eiffel Tower is seen background in Paris. — AP

BRUSSELS: European Union member states on Wednesday agreed to reopen the bloc’s borders to travellers who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, European sources said.

Meeting in Brussels, diplomats also agreed to increase the level of new cases a country can hit before being declared unsafe — a measure that would open up travel into the EU from more places.

The recommendations would be adopted by EU ministers on Friday, they said.

Currently, non-essential travel into the 27-member European Union is banned, apart from a small number of countries deemed safe because of their low Covid case rate.

But businesses on the continent are reopening as virus restrictions are phased out and bars, hotels and restaurants are worried about the summer tourist trade.

Recommendation expected to be approved tomorrow

Diplomats said under the new rules, travellers who could demonstrate that they had received the required number of doses of an EU-approved vaccine could enter the EU. Coronavirus vaccines authorized by the European Medicines Agency, the bloc’s drug regulator, include the ones made by Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

In addition, the number of cases per 100,000 people that a country could register over two weeks and still be considered for the green list will rise from 25 to 75.

This would still exclude non-vaccinated travellers from much of the world, but could allow travel from, for example, Britain, which is well-advanced in its vaccination campaign.

European Commission spokesperson Christian Wigand said the European Council made up of EU nations would now recommend that member states ease some of the current restrictions” for those who have been vaccinated.

He didn’t give a precise date for when the borders would reopen since EU countries have yet to formally approve the measures. The council should also soon expand the list of non-EU countries with a good epidemiological situation from where travel is permitted, said Wigand.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control is to give advice on the list.

The US Travel Association praised the EU’s move and urged the US government to adopt a similar approach to allowing international tourism to resume.

The executive commission also proposed permitting EU member nations to decide individually whether to allow in travellers immunized with vaccines approved by the WHO for emergency use, which include the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine.

Wigand said ambassadors also agreed on an ‘emergency brake’ mechanism designed to stop dangerous virus variants from entering EU nations through quickly enacted travel limits if the infection situation deteriorates in a non-EU country.

Once the non-binding measures are approved, EU countries will keep the possibility to impose restrictive measures on tourists such as PCR tests or quarantines.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2021

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