After nearly a year of closed borders, the European Union could open in June to fully vaccinated vacationers from countries with low Covid infection rates in time for summer under a plan revealed on Monday.
The easing of restrictions on nonessential travel, which will be welcomed by countries desperate to revive struggling tourism industries, would also allow for an “emergency brake” should infection rates rise again.
Reflecting success with vaccination programs, the EU also wants to relax qualification rules for adding to its safe travel list of countries whose travelers don’t need to be vaccinated or to enter quarantine.
Officials hope the plan could be implemented by the end of June, a year since the EU closed its external borders to most travelers, but borders could open up sooner depending on how quickly European countries sign off on the proposal.
The move comes as some members of the 27-nation bloc are already planning to forge ahead with opening up. Tourist-starved Greece last month said almost all fully vaccinated or Covid-tested international travelers can come from mid-May.
The proposals, published by the European Commission, advised that arrivals must have been inoculated 14 days before arrival with a vaccine from its approved list, including BioNTech/Pfizer, Oxford University/AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna.
“Member states could also extend this to those vaccinated with a vaccine having completed the WHO emergency use listing process,” an EC statement added.
At the heart of the EU plan is a “Digital Green Certificate” that will stand as proof of vaccination or immunity and allow for travel across internal and external European Union borders.
International travelers will be able to obtain one by submitting evidence to their initial destination country that they’ve been vaccinated.
Before it’s introduced, member states are advised they will need to take steps to verify the authenticity of any vaccination proof presented by visitors.
Monday’s proposals also recommended changing the way the European Union decides which countries are on its travel safe list. Currently only travelers from seven nations, including Australia, New Zealand and Rwanda, are allowed to enter some EU countries on vacation without proof of vaccination or undergoing mandatory quarantine.
“The proposal is to increase the threshold of 14-day cumulative Covid-19 case notification rate from 25 to 100 [per 100,000 inhabitants],” the EU’s statement said. “This remains considerably below the current EU average, which is over 420.”
In the latest data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the United States has a notification rate of 258 so would not be added to the safe travel list, but the UK which has a rate of 47, would be considered under the new rules.
However, the Commission proposal does include a so-called “emergency brake,” that, “When the epidemiological situation of a non-EU country worsens quickly and in particular if a variant of concern or interest is detected, a member state can urgently and temporarily suspend all inbound travel by non-EU citizens resident in such a country.”
The plans will be discussed by the ambassadors of European countries on May 5, and once signed off the list of safe countries will be reviewed every two weeks. Decisions about borders can only be made by individual countries, so each member state will decide whether to implement these proposals or not.