EU to reopen borders to those with accepted vaccines
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BRUSSELS — The European Union on Wednesday agreed to open its borders to vaccinated Americans and others after more than a year in which travel into the bloc has been severely restricted, a spokesman said Wednesday.
The decision will throw open Europe’s doors to tourist, business and other travel after a long stretch in which most people from outside the bloc’s 27 nations have not been allowed in. It will hearten those who have missed wandering the continent’s ancient streets — as well as Europeans whose livelihoods depend on tourist cash.
One final round of approvals will be necessary in the coming days, but the sign-off is not in doubt after the plan was agreed by ambassadors on Wednesday. The precise timing of when the borders will actually open is not yet clear, European Commission spokesman Christian Wigand said, but officials said it could happen within days of the final signature.
“Today EU ambassadors agreed to update the approach to travel from outside the European Union,” Wigand told reporters. The European Council “now recommends that member states ease some restrictions, in particular for those vaccinated with an EU-authorized vaccine.”
That rule means that all the vaccines currently available in the United States would be greenlighted, but vaccines currently manufactured in Russia and China would not be. The EU guidance is not binding, meaning that some countries could choose to be more or less restrictive than the bloc as a whole.
European countries — especially the tourism-dependent nations along the Mediterranean — have struggled without travelers over the course of the pandemic, and Greece, Italy, Spain and others have pushed hard to find a way to reopen safely. Some, like Greece, already decided unilaterally to open their doors to Americans.
Europe’s vaccination campaign has lagged behind those of the United States and Britain, although it has picked up speed recently, and some officials have also been reluctant to grant privileges to vaccinated foreigners that were unavailable to large portions of their own unvaccinated populations. But that worry is diminishing by the day, since the EU pace is now speedier than that in the United States.
A third of EU residents have now received at least one dose of a vaccine, compared to 47% of Americans. The European Union percentage is where the United States was six weeks ago.
As part of the same decision on Wednesday, the European Union plans to expand a list of countries deemed to have their pandemic under sufficient control that all residents can travel regardless of their vaccination status. They will also implement what they called an emergency brake — an automatic halt to travel from countries where cases are spiking, in a bid to hold back more dangerous variants of the coronavirus.
EU countries are separately continuing to work on an effort to streamline travel inside the bloc, which is currently stymied by a patchwork of rules about quarantines, tests and vaccines. Progress on that program, informally deemed a “covid passport,” could be announced as early as Friday. The goal of the program — officially know as a green certificate — is for Europeans to be able to prove that they are either vaccinated, have a recent negative coronavirus test, or have recently had the disease and are unlikely to be able to spread it. EU officials hope it will be operational by mid-June and that it will reduce quarantining and testing requirements.
Since individual countries will still be able to set their own rules about what they require from aspiring visitors, it is possible that some of the more cautious ones will still require vaccinated travelers to quarantine, as is the currently the case in many countries for new arrivals from other EU member states. France and Belgium, for instance, mandate a seven-day quarantine no matter the person’s vaccination status. But those kinds of rules will probably start dropping away as the European Union adapts its rules to diminishing fears that vaccinated travelers could still spread the virus.
Wednesday’s decision “gradually opens safe travel from and to the EU,” tweeted Ylva Johansson, the top EU official charged with home affairs.
The Washington Post’s Quentin Ariès contributed to this report.