| 13 April 2024, Saturday |

EU recommends new restrictions against US, Israeli and Lebanese travellers

The European Union has voted to reimpose restrictions on travellers from the US and five other countries due to rising Covid infections.

Member countries will keep the option of allowing in fully-vaccinated travellers, but the decision will still be a severe blow to the travel industry.

The guidance from the bloc is a recommendation and any decision on who to let in, and what restrictions to impose, ultimately rests with the governments of each member state. While countries have largely followed the EU guidelines, there have been times when individual nations have diverged from them.

Ultimately, American tourists should expect a mishmash of travel rules across the continent since the EU has no unified Covid-19 tourism policy. Possible restrictions could include quarantines, further testing requirements upon arrival, or even a total ban on all non-essential travel.

Israel, Montenegro, Kosovo, Lebanon and North Macedonia were also removed from the EU’s safe-travel list.

“Non-essential travel to the EU from countries or entities not listed (on the safe list) … is subject to temporary travel restriction,” the European Council said in a statement. “This is without prejudice to the possibility for member states to lift the temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU for fully-vaccinated travellers.”

The decision to remove the US from a safe list of countries for non-essential travel reverses the advice that the council gave in June, when the bloc recommended lifting restrictions on all US travelers before the summer tourism season.

That decision came as the US was making major strides with its vaccination program.

Case numbers in the country have since surged as the more infectious delta variant has spread and large swathes of the population have refused to get vaccinated.

The US had 588 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the two weeks ended August 22, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, well above the limit of 75 set out in the EU guidelines.

Vaccine hesitancy remains a problem in many locations in the US, where 61 per cent of the eligible population is inoculated against the virus. In contrast, Britain has fully vaccinated over 78 per cent of adults and EU countries have inoculated nearly 70 per cent of those over 18.

The move to restrict visitors from the world’s largest economy is a significant setback for airlines and travel companies that have been pressing for a full reopening of lucrative transatlantic routes. Shares of Air France-KLM, IAG SA and Deutsche Lufthansa AG all came under pressure last week on news of the vote.

“This decision is extremely disappointing for Europe’s airlines and our ailing tourism sector, particularly given the risk of virus transmission among air travellers has proven to be extremely low,” the Airlines for Europe lobby group said in a statement on Monday. “The overwhelming majority of international travellers today are either fully vaccinated, tested or recovered from the virus.”