With the increase in the number of coronavirus infections, the European Union (EU) has recommended to its member countries to remove the United States and Israel from the list of nations whose citizens are authorized to make, without restrictions, non-essential trips to the bloc’s territory during the pandemic.
In a statement issued on Monday (30), the EU Council also lists four other countries that are no longer included in the list created to regulate and ease borders and reopen tourism: Kosovo, Montenegro, Lebanon and Northern Macedonia.
In practice, people coming from countries that are not on the list may be subjected to stricter controls, such as testing and mandatory quarantines. It is, however, a recommendation, since each country in the bloc has sovereignty to decide on the control of its borders — so it is not yet clear which countries will reintroduce the restrictions and when this would start.
Some European countries, such as Germany and Belgium, already include the US in the red category, which requires Covid tests and travelers’ quarantine — something that does not happen in France and the Netherlands, for example, where until now the country was considered an origin safe. The list is periodically revised and is based on the disease situation in each country and takes into account reciprocity with Europeans.
If adopted, the new restrictions would only apply to unvaccinated travelers — the European Council already recommends that all visitors who have been fully immunized with an EU-approved drug can travel, which includes the three vaccines available in the United States (Pfizer, Moderna and Janssen).
Among other criteria for lifting travel restrictions, the EU observes whether a country had less than 75 cases of coronavirus per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 14 days and whether the trend in cases of the disease is stable or decreasing.
With the predominance of the more transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus, the average number of daily cases of the disease in the US grew to more than 450 per million people in the last week. In mid-June, when the country entered the EU’s safe list, there were only 40.
The EU had recommended that its member countries reopen their borders to American travelers. Despite appeals, there was no US reciprocity. Washington does not allow European citizens to visit the country freely — even those with a full vaccination schedule.
The situation led to a split, with one part of the bloc condemning the lack of reciprocity, while another was reluctant to apply restrictions for fear of damage to tourism. In countries like France, Greece and Spain, Americans form the largest contingent of tourists from non-European countries. In others, such as Portugal, total US traveler spending is among the highest among nationalities.
Proportional rates of cases in Israel, Kosovo, Montenegro and Northern Macedonia are even higher than those in the US. Israel is dealing with a significant increase in the number of infected people, hospitalizations and deaths, even with one of the highest vaccination rates in the world: almost 62% of the population – or more than 70% of those over 12 years old – are fully immunized.
The EU fears that the entry of unvaccinated tourists from countries where the health crisis is still intense could aggravate the European situation. On Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the projection that, in the next three months, Covid will cause another 236,000 deaths in Europe due to the slowdown in the pace of vaccination.
“Last week, deaths increased by 11% on the continent, with a projection that we will have another 236,000 deaths by December,” said WHO regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge. The region already has more than 1.3 million victims of the disease.
European countries have registered high rates of infection since the arrival of the delta variant, especially among unvaccinated people. Of the 53 countries, 33 reported a 10% increase in disease incidence over the past two weeks, according to Kluge.
The EU safe list currently contains 17 countries, including Canada, Australia, Jordan, Japan and New Zealand. No country in Latin America integrates the list. Uruguay, which was among the safe nations, was withdrawn in December 2020.
The bloc still allows non-European visitors who have been fully vaccinated against Covid to enter Europe, although some countries require testing and mandatory quarantine periods on arrival.
Brazil, one of the world leaders in cases and deaths by Covid, took a long time to appear on the European lists. Last week, Brazilian tourists completely immunized against Covid were accepted in Spain and Germany without the need for quarantine. While the first accepts all immunizing agents applied in Brazil, the second still does not accept Coronavac, manufactured by Butantan.