The EU agreed on Tuesday (30 June) on a ‘safe travel list’ including 15 third countries from where travel to Europe will be possible from 1 July, with the notable exception of the United States, where COVID-19 is still spreading.
The countries approved for leisure or business travel are Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay.
Residents of Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican will be considered as EU residents.
The EU’s latest lifting of travel measures comes as the global count of COVID-19 infections reaches some 10.3 million known cases and the World Health Organisation has warned that the pandemic is “not even close to being over”.
“Although many countries have made some progress, globally, the pandemic is actually speeding up,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday (28 June).
China also provisionally made it to the list, but on condition that Chinese authorities reciprocally grant EU visitors the same right of entry, a Council statement said.
Russia, Brazil and Turkey, along with the US, are among countries whose containment of the virus is considered worse than that of the EU average and which therefore will have to wait at least two weeks until the next list update.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week that Washington was working with European countries on reopening to find “the right way to do that, the right timing to do it, the right tactics to have in place”.
He added that the US did not “want to cause problems any place else”.
According to the communique, the criteria for lifting the current travel restriction comprise the epidemiological situation and containment measures in each country, including physical distancing, as well as economic and social considerations.
The number of new COVID-19 cases over the last 14 days and per 100 000 inhabitants in the third countries need to be close to or below the EU average, the country should have “stable or decreasing trend of new cases over this period in comparison to the previous 14 days” and the overall response to COVID-19 needs to be in accordance with International Health Regulations (IHR).
The Council’s communique is essentially a recommendation to the bloc’s member states, meaning they could potentially set restrictions on those entering from the 14 nations and will almost certainly not allow access to travellers from other countries.
EU citizens and their family members are to be exempted from the ban as well as long-term EU residents and their family members, the statement said.
The move is aimed at supporting Europe’s struggling tourism sector and deserted tourist destinations, particularly countries in southern Europe that have been hit the hardest by the pandemic.
Tourism makes up almost 10% of the EU economy and Southern European countries in particular, like Greece, Italy and Spain, Europe’s top holiday destinations, are already struggling with debt and the impact of the pandemic.
The list needed a “qualified majority” of EU countries to be passed, meaning 15 EU countries representing 65% of the population needed to agree, which according to EU sources made the process difficult as EU ambassadors struggled to find common ground on which countries to let in.
To break the deadlock, Croatia, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, on Monday initiated a silent approval procedure, which ended on Tuesday.
After nearly three months of COVID-19 restrictions and lockdown, the bloc has slowly restarted to reopen its internal borders from 15 June.
The European Commission spelled out on 11 June recommendations to member states to fully reopen the bloc’s internal borders on Monday (15 June) and then allow travellers from selected countries to enter the bloc from 1 July.
However, the EU’s efforts to reopen internal borders, particularly among the 26-nation Schengen area, which normally has no border checks, have been patchy as various countries have restricted access for certain nationals across the bloc.
The broader picture also remains inconsistent.
Greece is mandating COVID-19 tests for arrivals from a range of EU countries, including France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, with self-isolation until results are known.
The Czech Republic is not allowing in tourists from Portugal and Sweden.
British residents can travel to many EU countries with no requirements whatsoever, while non-essential travellers to Britain are required to self-isolate for 14 days.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]