Travellers fully vaccinated against Covid-19, and those travelling to the bloc from countries with low rates of Covid infection, could shortly be permitted to enter the union for non-essential purposes, including tourism.
The European Commission, on Monday (3 May), set out a framework for the resumption of non-essential travel to and from the union, with further talks scheduled for this week. The plan includes an "emergency brake" to guard against the important of new Covid-19 variants or interest or concern.
It proposes to allow entry to the EU for non-essential purposes to those who have received the last recommended dose of an EU-approved Covid-19 vaccine at least 14 days prior to travel, or are travelling from a country with a "good epidemiological situation".
Additionally, the commission said that if member states decide to waive inbound PCR test and/or quarantine requirements for vaccinated intra-EU travellers, they should do this too for vaccinated travellers arriving from outside the EU. This, it said, could be achieved through the union’s plans for its digital green certificate, which will allow people to verify their Covid status.
Prior to roll out of the certificate, the commission said member states should accept certificates from non-EU countries on a bilateral basis or consider setting up a portal allowing travellers to ask for recognition of a vaccination certificate.
The commission is also proposing to expand the list of countries from which travel to and from the bloc is permitted, based on the rate of new Covid-19 infections in individual source markets. Currently, the threshold is set at 25 per 100,000 over a 14-day period – but this could be increased to 100 "to take into account the mounting evidence of the positive impact of vaccination campaigns". After any such change, the list would be reviewed every two weeks.
The current EU average is in excess of 400 new Covid-19 infections per 100,000 people. The rate for the past seven days in the UK, according to latest gov.uk data, is 22.9.
As what it describes as a "counter-balance", the commission is proposing to introduce a new emergency brake alongside the plans to further reopen the union that would allow member states to quickly limit all travel from countries where the is an emerging new Covid concern, whether this is rising case numbers or the emergence of a new variant of interest or concern.
Any measures limited travel introduced through the emergency brake mechanism should be reviewed "at least every two weeks", said the commission.
Its recommendations apply to all members states, except Ireland, and extends to the four non-EU states in the Schengen area – Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, the trade body for UK registered airlines, said: "This is an extremely important announcement that will pave the way for the reopening of the EU’s tourism and travel industry in time for the peak summer season.
"The EU should be congratulated for recognising that the success of the vaccine rollout – coupled with sensible vigilance around variants – is a game-changer that can and should enable a risk-based and proportionate system of international travel to resume.
"It is frustrating the UK has not gone down the same road, with ministers here still reluctant to acknowledge that we can be more ambitious with our own plans, taking advantage of one of the most impressive vaccination programmes in the world, alongside quicker, cheaper testing and our globally renowned genomic sequencing capability.
"It’s about getting the risk balance right, and we don’t believe the UK has done that yet."