As U.S. Covid Instances Surge, E.U. Seeks New Guidelines for Vacationers

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BRUSSELS – Back in June, the European Union urged its member states to reopen their borders to travelers from the United States, hoping to give the continent’s ailing tourism sector a boost in the crucial summer season.

It worked. American tourists poured in the beaches of Spain and Greece, the countryside of Italy and the streets of Amsterdam and Paris.

However, on Monday the European Union proposed new travel restrictions on unvaccinated visitors from the United States in response to the alarming rise in coronavirus cases and hospital stays across the Atlantic.

By removing the United States from a “safe list” of countries whose residents can travel without restrictions such as quarantine and testing, the European Council of the European Union, which represents the governments of the bloc’s 27 countries, signaled potential restrictions to curb the spread the coronavirus can persist for months. The new measures could deal a new blow to the ailing tourism sector in Europe.

Other countries removed from the “safe list” include Israel, Kosovo, Lebanon, Montenegro and North Macedonia, which have reported increases in cases over the past 14 days, according to a New York Times tracker.

The proposed restrictions are not mandatory and it is up to each member state of the European Union to follow the guidelines. As a result, it was not immediately clear which countries might reintroduce restrictions or when they might start.

If enforced, the new restrictions would only apply to unvaccinated travelers. The European Council already recommends that all visitors who have been vaccinated with an EU approved vaccine are allowed to travel. These include the three US vaccines made by Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna, and AstraZeneca.

Some countries have also taken stricter measures than others, even for visitors from a country on the safe list. However, as soon as visitors have entered an EU country, they can move freely around the block.

According to the current guidelines, unvaccinated travelers from countries on the European Council’s safe list can visit EU countries without quarantine by showing a negative test. However, a minority of countries have also maintained self-isolation requirements, including in some cases for vaccinated visitors.

Meanwhile, the United States remained closed to Europeans, who expressed frustration at the lack of reciprocity.

With more than 52 percent of Americans fully vaccinated, most have been able to travel to Europe this summer and continue to do so. Still, the decision to remove the United States from the safe list could still cause confusion among American tourists, said Marie Audren, director of HOTREC, a lobby group that represents the hospitality industry in Europe.

“Every customer in a hotel, restaurant, bar or café has been valuable to the tourism industry this summer,” said Ms. Audren. “And in recent years American tourists have become more and more important for European countries.”

According to the tourism ministries, US visitors make up the largest contingent of tourists from non-European countries in France, Greece and Spain. In other countries like Portugal, total American spending is among the highest of any nationality.

However, according to the European Travel Commission, a Brussels-based group that represents national tourism organizations on the continent, US arrivals to Europe fell by more than 80 percent last year compared to 2019. Although the numbers for this summer are not yet available, Ms. Audren said it would be years before pre-pandemic levels were reached again.

Luís Araújo, President of the European Travel Commission, said: “Further unjustified changes to the regulations will undoubtedly have a negative impact on the tourism sector, which is slowly recovering from its worst crisis.”

In Europe, the number of coronavirus cases has remained stable this month. But the US saw more than 100,000 daily Covid hospital admissions last week, a first since winter. EU officials fear an influx of unvaccinated US visitors could fuel infections in Europe.

One of the European Council’s criteria for lifting restrictions is that a country should have fewer than 75 coronavirus cases per 100,000 population in the past 14 days. The United States has had a reported infection rate well above this threshold for weeks, according to the European Center for Disease Control, and it’s classified as a red zone by the agency – the second most risky rating.

A European official, aware of confidential discussions leading up to the announcement, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to discuss the update of the list, said that it had been made on the basis of the latest available scientific data and that the infection numbers in the US spoke for themselves.