EU opens doors to vaccinated tourists and lowers bar for 'white list' countries

Visitors from countries not on the list will be allowed in if vaccinated with EU-approved shots

People stand by the sun-beds and umbrellas as an aircraft prepares for landing at Larnaca international airport, at Makenzi beach in southern city of Larnaca, Cyprus, Tuesday, May 18, 2021.  Tourism accounts directly for 13 percent of Cyprus' gross domestic product and authorities are striving to attract mass arrivals by touting the country's decision for quarantine requirements to holiday makers from 65 countries. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
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EU ambassadors agreed to open the bloc's doors to immunised people and loosen the requirements for countries to be included on its travel "white list".

The list includes only a few non-member states, and all have extremely low Covid-19 infection rates.

But on Wednesday, ambassadors approved a proposal by the European Commission to make it easier for non-EU countries to join the list.

Under the plan, the maximum permitted 14-day infection rate per 100,000 people would be raised from 25 to 75.

The UK’s latest figure was 44, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). It was 176 in the US.

In drawing up the final list, EU policymakers could also consider variants of concern, the level of testing and whether the trend is stable or decreasing.

Germany last week returned the UK to its list of high-risk areas because of the spread of the B.1.617.2 Covid-19 variant first identified in India.

Visitors from countries not on the list will still be able to travel to Europe if they have been fully immunised with an EU-approved product.

The vaccines approved by the bloc’s regulators are those by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

The European Medicines Agency has yet to give a verdict on Russia's Sputnik V and China's Sinopharm vaccines, which are in use in Hungary.

Under plans for a digital health certificate, individual countries will be allowed to admit visitors immunised with vaccines not approved by the EU.

The bloc’s 27 EU governments will have the final word on whether to scrap testing or quarantine requirements.

EU poised to expand its ‘white list’

A new list of safe countries will be drawn up once the new criteria have been signed off by the European Council, which is expected to happen this week.

The current list has only seven destinations – Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand, plus China, if it agrees to reciprocate.

The ECDC will give advice on the updated country list, which The National understands could be published early next week.

Once countries are on the list, the EU recommends to its member states that they should make international travel easier for visitors from those nations.

The European Council “will now recommend that member states ease some of the current restrictions” for vaccinated people, said European Commission spokesman Christian Wigand.

“The council should also soon expand the list of non-EU countries with a good epidemiological situation from where travel is permitted,” he said.

Visitors from England are restricted by the UK government's traffic-light system for international travel.

Only a few countries are on the UK's green list, and the only major tourist destination is Portugal.

The Commission’s proposal envisages an emergency brake mechanism to protect the bloc from dangerous new variants of the virus.

Businesses in Europe are reopening, and bars, hotels and restaurants are worried about the summer tourist trade.

Much of the continent imposed restrictions in March and April to cope with a third wave of the virus, prolonging the misery for the battered tourist industry.

Tourism is an important part of the economies of southern European countries such as Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal.

European tourism chiefs said this month the industry may not fully recover from the pandemic until 2024.

Some member states, including Greece, already admit vaccinated tourists without requiring them to quarantine on arrival.