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European Union set to allow U.S. travelers as Covid restrictions lift

Europe is eager to kick-start tourism this summer after the number of foreign visitors dropped by 70 percent in 2020.
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LONDON — The prospect of international travel resuming this summer just got a step closer.

Ambassadors from the 27 European Union countries agreed on Wednesday that restrictions for travelers from outside the E.U. should be eased, in particular for those vaccinated against Covid-19, a spokesperson for the European Commission, Christian Wigand, said.

The ambassadors agreed to ease the criteria for non-E.U. nations to be considered a “safe country,” from which all tourists can travel. Up to now, that list consisted of only seven nations — Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand.

The recommendations still need to be formally adopted by the European Council, which sets the E.U.'s policy agenda, Wigand said.

A source within the European Union also told NBC News that the easing of restrictions would mean that fully vaccinated tourists from the U.S. and other countries will no longer have to quarantine or be tested when they go to Europe. The official could not say when exactly that would start and could not speak openly, lacking authorization to do so.

The bloc’s member states could still make their own decisions about which travel restrictions can be waived for foreign visitors and when. An “emergency brake” mechanism was also recommended to allow member countries to temporarily limit all travel from countries with coronavirus variants of concern, Wigand said.

The relaxation of the rules was proposed this month by the European Commission, the E.U.'s executive body, which said entry should be granted to all those fully vaccinated with shots approved by the European Medicines Agency.

These include vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. The EMA hasn't approved any vaccines from Russia or China yet, but is looking at data for Russia’s Sputnik V.

The E.U. is also working on a “green certificate” that would work as a one-stop platform for recording Covid-19 vaccinations, tests and recovery to facilitate movement across the region this summer.

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Europe is eager to kick-start tourism this summer after international arrivals to the region dropped by 70 percent in 2020, wreaking havoc on its economy.

Image: People sit at outdoor tables at St. Mark's Square as Italy lifts quarantine restrictions for travelers in Venice, Italy
People sit at outdoor tables at St. Mark's Square as Italy lifts quarantine restrictions for travelers in Venice, Italy, on May 16, 2021.Manuel Silvestri / Reuters

Americans made 36.5 million trips to Europe in 2019. That number fell to 6.6 million last year, a drop of more than 80 percent, according to the European Travel Commission.

Wednesday's agreement comes weeks after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen signaled last month that Americans who have been fully vaccinated may be able to visit countries in the European Union this summer.

Last week, E.U. member Greece welcomed back foreign visitors — Americans among them — without the requirement to quarantine if they are fully vaccinated or have a negative Covid-19 test, in hopes of reviving its tourism sector, which accounts for about a fifth of its economy.

After a slow start to its vaccination campaign this year, the European Union is still catching up to deliver enough vaccine doses, and many member states still face restrictions.