European Union governments agreed to allow quarantine-free travel for vaccinated tourists and visitors from countries deemed safe, paving the way for the resumption of hassle-free trans-Atlantic flights.
Ambassadors from the EU’s 27 member states backed a proposal to waive quarantine for those with coronavirus inoculations approved by its drug regulator, including shots from Pfizer Inc., Moderna Inc. and Johnson & Johnson. The approval could be finalized this week and implemented soon after.
Unvaccinated travelers can also avoid quarantine if they come from countries that have controlled the Covid-19 outbreak, meaning a 14-day new-case rate of less than 75 per 100,000, according to two officials familiar with the decision.
This would likely land the U.S. on a “white list” which is due to be adopted later this week. But with so many Americans already vaccinated, the designation may be less important to the travel industry than whether American officials reciprocate and loosen rules for European visitors.
The EU move highlights the importance of trans-Atlantic travel to getting its economies restarted after the decimation of the global coronavirus crisis — especially in tourist dependent nations such as Greece, Spain and Italy. Opening their doors will give EU countries access to a powerful U.S. travel rebound, while validating a gamble on vaccination that the American and European officials have emphasized over the reliance on strict lockdowns prevalent in Asia.
Read: U.S. Vaccine Surge Lifts Region’s Air-Travel Comeback Past Asia
For airlines, it partially unlocks the most lucrative niche in the global industry, catering to well-heeled travelers who often pay premium fares.
While Europe’s vaccine effort has lagged behind the U.S. and the U.K., it’s starting to hit its stride, giving officials confidence even as they wrestle with how to prevent a highly transmissible Indian variant from derailing their recoveries.
The new rules will replace a blanket ban on non-essential travel from most countries outside the EU. Some member states, such as Greece, already permit tourists to visit without quarantine requirements if they have been inoculated.
The new rules include a so-called emergency brake, which would allow member states to restore travel bans on countries where risky new variants emerge or contagion rates spike. The European Commission — the EU’s executive arm — has already demanded that such brake is applied for all travel from India.
Travel Within EU
Meanwhile, negotiations between EU governments and the European Parliament continue on the introduction of mutually recognizable certificates that will allow quarantine-free travel within the bloc as of next month.
Travelers will must be vaccinated, recovered or have a recent negative test for Covid-19.
The aim is to reach an agreement between negotiators on Thursday.
— With assistance by Alberto Nardelli
(Updates with drug companies, airlines, adds inter-EU travel plan from second paragraph)