The EU has paved the way for holidaymakers to return for the crucial summer tourist season after member states provisionally agreed to open up to visitors who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
The plan builds on a European Commission proposal this month to ease a longstanding pandemic ban on non-essential travel to the bloc from all but a handful of countries with low Covid infection rates.
Ambassadors from the 27 EU countries meeting in Brussels on Wednesday also backed a move to ease the criteria determining which countries are deemed safe for visitors to travel from.
The agreement still needs formal ministerial approval and is a recommendation only. It will also be dependent on the successful launch of a planned EU vaccine passport, known as a digital vaccination certificate, which is proving complicated to implement. There is as yet no international electronic system for proof of vaccination, either in the EU or outside.
Under the plan, EU countries would admit fully-jabbed visitors from outside the bloc for non-essential travel, according to a copy of the proposals seen by the Financial Times.
Visitors would need to have received their final dose of a vaccine approved by the European Medicines Agency — BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson — at least 14 days before arrival in the EU.
Those on the World Health Organization’s emergency list, which now includes China’s Sinopharm, would also be considered.
The EU plan would also introduce a less stringent coronavirus infection benchmark that countries must reach to be considered safe.
The cut-off point would be raised from 25 to 75 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the previous 14 days.
That could open the way to the addition of the UK and other countries to the current seven nations from which non-essential travel is permitted — Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand
The proposals would essentially formalise a piecemeal opening already taking place as a growing number of countries depart from the bloc’s common travel rules.
British holidaymakers have flocked to Portugal this week after the Iberian country revoked travel curbs on visitors from the UK.
Some EU member states are reluctant to include the UK on the list of safer countries because of concerns about the spread in the country of an infectious coronavirus variant identified in India, diplomats said.
Nations that have reduced Covid infection rates may also not be considered safe as a source of visitors if they have not made strong progress on vaccination, are not testing sufficiently widely or do not offer reciprocal rights to EU travellers.
EU member states will continue to have discretion over what precautionary requirements to apply to travellers on arrival, such as testing and quarantine.