BRUSSELS – Last June, the European Union urged its member countries to reopen their borders to travelers from the United States, in hopes of giving a boost to the continent’s struggling tourism sector during the crucial summer season .
It worked. American tourists flocked the beaches of Spain and Greece, the Italian countryside and the streets of Amsterdam and Paris.
But on Monday, the European Union proposed new travel restrictions for unvaccinated visitors from the United States, in response to the alarming increase in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations across the Atlantic.
This could represent yet another blow to the struggling European tourism sector and a sign that potential measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus could remain in place for months.
The European Council of the European Union, which represents the governments of the 27 countries in the bloc, on Monday removed the United States from a “safe list” of countries whose residents can travel without requirements such as quarantine and testing.
Other countries removed from the “safe list” include Israel, Kosovo, Lebanon, Montenegro and North Macedonia, most of which have reported an increase in cases in the past 14 days, according to a New York tracker Times.
The suggested restrictions are not mandatory and it is up to each member state of the European Union to follow the guidelines. It was therefore not immediately clear which countries, if any, would reintroduce restrictions or when they could begin. Some countries have implemented stricter measures than others, even for visitors from a country on the Safe Person List, but once visitors have entered an EU country, they may be move freely across the block.
If implemented, the new restrictions would only apply to unvaccinated travelers. The European Council is already recommending that all visitors who have been vaccinated with an EU-approved vaccine be allowed to travel. This includes the three vaccines available in the United States and manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna, as well as AstraZeneca.
Under current guidelines, unvaccinated travelers from countries on the European Council’s safe country list can visit EU countries without quarantine by testing negative. But a minority of countries have kept self-isolation requirements in place, including, in some cases, for vaccinated visitors.
The United States has remained closed to Europeans, who have expressed frustration at the lack of reciprocity.
With over 52% of Americans fully vaccinated, most were able to travel to Europe barrier-free this summer and can continue to do so. Still, the decision to remove the United States from the Safe People list could still create confusion among American tourists, said Marie Audren, director of HOTREC, a lobby group that represents the hotel industry in Europe.
“Every guest of a hotel, restaurant, bar or cafe has been valuable to the tourism industry this summer,” Ms. Audren said. “And in recent years, American tourists have become increasingly important to European countries. “
In France, Greece and Spain, American visitors constitute the largest contingent of tourists from non-European countries, according to data provided by tourism ministries. In others, such as Portugal, total spending by Americans is among the highest of any nationality.
Yet arrivals from the United States to Europe fell by more than 80% last year compared to 2019, according to the European Travel Commission, a Brussels-based group that represents national tourism organizations on the continent. Although numbers for this summer are not yet available, Ms Audren said it would take years to return to pre-pandemic levels.
Luís Araújo, President of the European Travel Commission, said: “Further unjustified regulatory changes will undoubtedly negatively affect the tourism sector, which is slowly recovering from its worst crisis.
In Europe, the number of coronavirus cases has remained stable this month. But the United States has recorded more than 100,000 daily Covid hospitalizations over the past week, a first since the winter. EU officials fear that an influx of unvaccinated American visitors could increase infections in Europe.
One of the European Council’s criteria for lifting the restrictions is that a country should have fewer than 75 cases of coronavirus per 100,000 population in the previous 14-day period. The United States has reported an infection rate well above this threshold for weeks, according to data provided by the European Center for Disease Control, and it is classified as a red zone by the agency – the second highest classification. risky.
An EU official familiar with the confidential discussions leading up to the announcement, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the list update, said it was made on based on the latest scientific data available, and that the number of infections in the United States spoke for themselves.