BRUSSELS – The European Union on Wednesday agreed to reopen its borders to visitors who have been fully vaccinated with an approved shot and to those who come from a list of countries considered safe from a coronavirus perspective, which travel only in time for the summer tourism season. .
Ambassadors from the 27 member states of the European Union have endorsed a plan that would allow visitors from tourists and other non-important travelers, who are usually barred for more than a year, to access the block.
The move is seen as an economic necessity for tourism-dependent countries, such as Greece and Spain, and has been going on for months. Other EU countries that are less dependent on tourists for work and income, especially in Northern Europe, were keen to maintain higher barriers for non-important visitors to keep the coronavirus. But they conceded as the vaccinations progressed, and after they were promised to reverse the chances as the cases increased again.
The new rules will become formal policy next week after removing some bureaucratic barriers, and depending on how well each country is prepared to welcome tourists, it could be implemented immediately. Some countries, such as Greece, have already said they will remove the test and quarantine requirements for vaccinated visitors. But most countries are likely to implement such changes more slowly and conservatively.
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive officer, outlined the measures in an interview with The New York Times in April. The formalization of freer international travel for vaccinated people will deepen the gap between the majority of countries that still have extremely limited access to life-saving shots, and the few richer countries. This is likely to intensify the debate on how to improve equitable access to vaccines around the world.
According to the EU plan, the block will accept visitors who have completed their vaccination at least two weeks before their arrival using one of the shots approved by its own regulator or by the World Health Organization. It covers the vaccines of AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Sinopharm, according to a draft of the rules seen by The New York Times. That would open the door for immunized Americans, who received shots from Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer.
Travelers who are not vaccinated but who come from a list of safe countries will also be able to visit for non-important reasons, such as leisure and business. The list, compiled on the basis of epidemiological criteria and regularly updated, will be finalized on Friday.
The draft of the criteria seen by The Times indicated that the list would include countries whose “Covid notification rate” – or the number of new cases recorded per 100,000 people over the past 14 days – is below 75. Travelers from the countries may still require a negative PCR test to be admitted to the European Union.
The standard would be too high for most EU countries themselves, with notification rates well above 75. Greece, for example, has recorded 269 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the past two weeks; in Italy it was 249. Of the 27 members of the bloc, only three – Finland, Malta and Portugal – are below the benchmark that would apply to other countries, according to data reported by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.
19 May 2021, 09:07 ET
And individual EU states will retain the freedom to adapt the measures if they wish to take a more conservative approach, which means that some countries may retain claims for negative PCR tests or quarantines for certain visitors.
The draft document of the rules indicated that children should not be expected to be vaccinated if they are with vaccinated parents, but that they may be asked to show a negative PCR test that does not exceed 72 hours. before arrival is not done.
The block would also maintain an emergency brake option, a legitimate tool that allows for a quick return to more restricted travel conditions should a threatening variant or other Covid emergency arise.
A key question about the practical application of the rules is how the vaccination status of a visitor will be determined.
The European Union has discussed with US officials the possibility of making US-issued vaccination certificates acceptable in the block, even if there are questions about the use of such documents. Those issued so far are vulnerable to fraud.
Europeans are provided with digital certificates that can be read by the block sometime in June. The European Union eventually wants to bridge its own certificates with those issued by national authorities in partner countries such as the United States, but this can go a long way.
For visitors from outside the European Union, the draft document of the rules reads: ‘Member States must be able to accept certificates from third countries that contain at least the minimum data set based on national law, taking into account the ability to authenticate, verify validity. and the integrity of the certificate and whether it contains all relevant data. ”
It will also give border authorities in each EU country a chance to accept or reject a vaccination certificate, based on whether it looks authentic and contains the necessary information.