The EU would reopen to holidaymakers from countries with low Covid infection rates such as the UK, and to anyone who has been fully vaccinated, by the start of June under a European Commission plan.
With the rate of vaccination rising “dramatically” in EU member states, commission officials said it was time to relax rules on non-essential travel while legislating to provide for powers to pull an “emergency brake” if necessary.
EU borders would be reopened at the latest by the start of June, officials said, with agreement due to be sought from member states during meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The existing requirement to undergo Covid testing before or after arrival or to quarantine could still be enforced by member states but EU officials added that “hopefully with the situation improving and the vaccination rate immensely picking up we will also see a gradual phasing out of these additional conditions”.
Tight restrictions on those wishing to travel into the EU have been in force since last year. The commission’s announcement will come as welcome news to people in the UK hoping to take a European summer holiday.
Under the UK government’s plan to relax coronavirus restrictions, international travel for leisure purposes could resume from 17 May. A traffic light system is expected to be unveiled this week under which countries will be added to green, amber and red lists, with different rules regarding issues such as quarantine of returning travellers for each list.
Under the commission’s proposals, member states would allow travel into the EU of those people who had received, at least 14 days before arrival, the final dose of an authorised vaccine.
Even those who have not been fully vaccinated will be allowed into the EU if they are coming from a country with a “good epidemiological situation”.
As it stands, only seven countries worldwide are on a green list allowing for non-essential travel. The commission is proposing to increase the threshold of 14-day cumulative Covid-19 case notification rate from 25 to 100. The UK’s rate is about 23.2 per 100,000 people.
A senior official said the UK could be added to the green list but that it would depend on a reciprocal willingness to open its borders to all EU citizens. “The figures for the UK are good,” the EU official said. “Those vaccinated in the UK will be eligible to travel to the EU but [we are are] mindful of other aspects: reciprocity. It is still a principle under this new recommendation.”
The commission is proposing, however, an emergency brake. When the epidemiological situation of a non-EU country worsens quickly and in particular if a variant of concern or interest is detected, a member state will be able to “urgently and temporarily suspend all inbound travel by non-EU citizens resident in such a country”.
The only exceptions would be healthcare professionals, transport personnel, diplomats, transit passengers, those travelling for imperative family reasons, seafarers, and people in need of international protection or for other humanitarian reasons. They would instead be subject to strict testing and quarantine arrangements even if they had been vaccinated.