EU mulls keeping travel restrictions on US

High rate of infections in US counts against opening to casual travel as EU eases restrictions

 Orly Airport on the outskirts of Paris, a few days before its reopening as France eases lockdown measures taken to curb the spread of coronavirus. Photograph:   Stephane De Sakutin/AFP via Getty Images

Orly Airport on the outskirts of Paris, a few days before its reopening as France eases lockdown measures taken to curb the spread of coronavirus. Photograph: Stephane De Sakutin/AFP via Getty Images

 

The European Union may recommend that casual travellers from the United States continue to be barred from entry as the continent opens up borders that were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The bloc’s executive body is expected to publish on Monday a recommended list of countries for which member states should drop travel restrictions from July 1st.

The US was not included on initial draft lists due to the high rate of Covid-19 infections there. EU ambassadors who met to discuss the issue on Wednesday were briefed that the rate of infections in the US was 107 per 100,000 people and growing, compared to just 16 per 100,000 across the EU.

The issue of whether to permit casual travel from the US is highly politically sensitive, as continued exclusion would be seen to reflect badly on the ability of the Trump administration to contain the virus.

Assessing which countries to include on the list can also be contentious due to different national priorities and ways of collecting data. The European Commission recommends only opening to casual travel from countries that have infection rates, and testing and tracing systems, comparable to or better than the EU average.

Infection rates

Countries with low infection rates such as Australia, New Zealand and Japan are likely candidates for inclusion on the safe list.

The decision on which countries to include will also take into account how close their ties are to the EU, and reciprocity: whether European citizens are also free to travel there

EU ambassadors are lobbying Washington to allow EU citizens with visas and who ordinarily reside in the US to return to their homes, many of whom are currently unable to re-enter the United States due to US restrictions imposed in March.

The commission recommended EU member states close their borders to all non-essential travel from outside the bloc shortly after the US ban. People legally resident in the EU, including Americans, were exempt from these restrictions.

Member states are ultimately free to make their own decisions regarding borders, and Ireland never implemented the initial travel ban, as it applied to the 30 countries associated with the EU’s Schengen free movement area, of which the Republic and the United Kingdom are not part.

The commission has been trying to co-ordinate the re-opening of travel between EU member states, and earlier this month recommended that all countries in the bloc should open their borders to each other as long as infection rates were at a comparable level.

The reality however is a patchwork: countries keen to accept tourists such as Greece and Italy were quick to open up, but other member states are more cautious. Many require incoming travellers to go into quarantine, or allow non-essential travel from only a small list of countries.