Summer Vacation: EU Gives Green Light for International Travelers
The European Union announced that it would accept fully vaccinated travelers to its member countries this summer.
After a ban on nonessential travel to the EU for the past year plus, it looks like vaccinated international travelers and tourists will be able to visit the EU this coming summer.
The head of the European Commission announced that the 27 member bloc would allow fully vaccinated travelers to travel to the EU for the purpose of nonessential travel, a welcome relief for eager travelers hungry to make travel plans given the past year of lockdown.
Tourists and travelers must have received the permitted vaccinations approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which include the Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson vaccinations. There is a chance that this list of approved vaccinations could expand to include other vaccinations, depending on a number of factors.
US and EU officials have been maintaining close talks about loosening these previous travel restrictions enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Given that U.S. vaccination distribution efforts as well as the overall vaccination timeline has accelerated under the Biden administration, officials from both areas see encouraging numbers in transmission rates that would justify opening travel back up.
The President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen stated that the United States’ quickly improving status approaching herd-immunity was a significant factor in this news. An estimation of reaching a vaccination rate of 70 percent by mid-June, as well as hopeful estimates for EU factors as well, was a major point behind these talks.
Of course travelers from outside of the EU would need to prove their vaccination status to travel officials before departing. Vaccine passports or certificates have been front of mind for officials from both areas.
Travelers can expect announcements in the near future as to how vaccine certificates would be accepted at points of entry, airports, or other areas needed to prove their status. Currently, there is no official date for when non-essential travel will be restored, but this announcement is an encouraging news item that will surely inspire more updates to come.
Establishing A System
Figuring out a standardized system for these vaccination certificates will be the next hurdle as the EU eyes opening back up again. Having an easy, low-tech solution that would enable travel officials to read and certify a traveler’s vaccination status would make the process more seamless.
The US and EU, as well as a number of other countries are currently coordinating options that would make it easier for these officials while tamping down any confusion that could arise throughout the process. Figuring out that standardized system will take widespread coordination from international governments.
This news comes as a welcome relief to those who have been eager to travel, but probably even more so to the tourism sectors of these various countries. Considering that the tourism industry has missed out on a year plus of revenue, and that many of these European countries depend on tourism as a large portion of their annual revenue, this news will undoubtedly have a massive impact on the financial health of several areas.
European Parliament has previously estimated that the EU tourism industry has been suffering massive losses of “around €1 billion in revenue per month as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19.” The EU tourism industry employs around 13 million people across its 27 member countries. From hotels to restaurants, bars and tourist attractions, theme parks and more, it’s not hard to imagine how these closures have impacted the financial health of those it employs, as well as the countries themselves.
Most nonessential travel to the EU has been on hold throughout the past year, though there are a number of countries that travelers are permitted to travel from. These countries include areas where COVID-19 rates are extremely low, including Australia, New Zealand, and South Korea.
Additionally, there are a small number of EU countries that already do allow for visitors from outside of the 27 member group to visit, though that number is small and requires that travelers prove their vaccination status, or provide a negative COVID-19 test.
These countries include Greece, Iceland, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Cyprus, and Georgia. Requirements to travel to these destinations varies by country, but most require the aforementioned vaccination status, a negative test, and for travelers to adhere to all COVID-19 safety measures including but not limited to mask wearing and social distancing efforts.
Other countries are additionally hoping to open up on their own schedules as early as June. Spanish Tourism minister Fernando Valdés recently said that the country would launch a pilot test in May 2021 in order potentially lay the groundwork for a wider opening in June.
And while a number of these EU member countries already employ digital COVID-vaccination passes to prove vaccination status, there’s no doubt that a standardized system would make it easier for travelers across the board.
On top of this, there is the chance that these separate measures that vary by EU member country could complicate any standardized system if an agreement across member countries is not reached. EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders expanded on this and outlined the potential dangers in any miscalculations in this process.
“We would risk having a variety of documents that cannot be read and verified in other member states. And we risk the spread of forged documents, and with it, the spread of both the virus and the mistrust of citizens,” he said.
Similar Plans Stateside?
This news also has many wondering whether the United States will announce similar measures for this upcoming summer. We know that incoming travel to the US is on the mind of the current administration given the Biden executive order rolling back the widely contested Trump-era Muslim ban.
But travel in a post-pandemic US is front of mind for those who are eager to dust off their travel gear and hit the dusty road.
The vaccination rate in the United States is currently around 42% of the total population as of April 27th. If the country were to reach that herd immunity rate of 70% by June, that could inspire a wave of similar rollbacks on travel restrictions as well.
Currently, the U.S restricts most travelers from entering depending on the destination they are coming from, though there are a number of certain criteria that travelers hoping for an exemption could qualify for. Most notably, if a foreign national’s entrance to the United States is in the national interest of the country.
Whatever US officials have planned for the near future, it’s clear that we need to lay out a system that protects public health while encouraging safe travel. Adhering restrictions that have kept the public safe has been key in fighting the pandemic. Of course