By Gabriela Baczynska
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s executive has recommended easing COVID-19 travel restrictions next month to let foreign travellers from more countries enter the EU, hoping to boost the stricken tourism industry this summer.
Under current restrictions, people from only seven countries, including Australia and Singapore, can enter the EU on holiday, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 but subject to tests or quarantine.
New proposals outlined by the European Commission on Monday, but still requiring member states’ approval, would allow in foreign citizens who have been fully vaccinated and those who arrive from countries with a “good epidemiological situation”.
“Time to revive tourism industry and for cross-border friendships to rekindle – safely,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wrote on Twitter.
People arriving from Britain, Russia and a number of other countries would meet the new criteria, according to data provided by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). U.S. citizens would not currently do so.
“We want to have this done before the mass summer travel starts,” an EU official said.
The 27 EU member states are due to start discussing the proposal on Tuesday and the official hoped it would be approved this month.
Travel restrictions because of COVID-19 have inflicted heavy losses on the tourism industry in the EU, which at times has struggled to agree a common position as it responds to the pandemic.
If the new proposals are agreed, specific EU countries would be expected – but not legally obliged – to follow the new joint approach. Greece has already agreed to welcome vaccinated tourists from Israel.
The Commission recommended allowing people fully inoculated with EU-recognised vaccines to be able to enter from any country, and said other vaccines could be added if they are approved by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The European Medicines Agency has authorised the use of shots by Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca in the EU.
The WHO has also approved those vaccines for use and is expected to decide on the use of two Chinese vaccines this week. Both agencies are considering approval for Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.
The Commission said reciprocity should be considered when deciding on its proposals to allow leisure travel from third countries.
To limit the risk of importing new coronavirus variants, the Commission also proposed a new “emergency brake” that would allow the swift introduction of travel restrictions from countries where the health situation deteriorates sharply.
EU countries would review the situation every two weeks, it said.
Other measures to be in place by the summer include a central EU register allowing free travel for the bloc’s citizens who have been vaccinated, have had a negative COVID-19 test or have immunity after recovering.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by John Chalmers and Timothy Heritage)