EU takes big step toward relaxing travel for vaccinated

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Laszlo Balogh

FILE - In this Saturday, May 1, 2021 file photo, people in the reopened Szechenyi bath in Budapest, Hungary. The European Union on Wednesday, May 19, 2021 took a step toward relaxing tourism travel for visitors from outside the bloc, with EU ambassadors agreeing on measures to allow fully vaccinated visitors in. They also agreed on easing the criteria for nations to be considered a safe country, from which all tourists can travel. Up to now, that list included only seven nations. (AP Photo/Laszlo Balogh, File)

BRUSSELS – The European Union took a step toward relaxing travel rules for tourists from outside the 27-nation bloc Wednesday when EU ambassadors agreed on measures to allow in fully vaccinated visitors.

The ambassadors also agreed to ease the criteria needed for nations to be considered COVID-19 safe and from which all tourists can travel, depending on their coronavirus and vaccination status. Under the existing criteria, the list includes only seven nations.

The EU imposed restrictions on nonessential travel last year to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The bloc's ambassadors said many of those restrictions should be eased, including to permit vacation travel by non-EU residents.

The European Council made up of EU nations “will now recommend that member states ease some of the current restrictions" for those who have been vaccinated, European Commission spokesperson Christian Wigand said. He didn’t give a precise date for when the borders will reopen since EU countries have yet to formally approve the measures.

“The council should also soon expand the list of non-EU countries with a good epidemiological situation from where travel is permitted,” said Wigand. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control is to give advice on the list.

The U.S. Travel Association praised the EU's move and urged the U.S. government to adopt a similar approach to allowing international tourism to resume.

“The U.S. has been a leader in many aspects of managing the pandemic but is behind our global competitors in pursuing an international economic reopening," Roger Dow, the trade group's president and CEO, said. “The millions of travel-related U.S. jobs that were lost to the pandemic won’t come back on the strength of domestic travel alone, so identifying the path to restarting international visitation is essential to an overall economic recovery.”

The European Commission - the EU's executive arm - proposed easing the rules for entering the bloc earlier this month, saying entry should be granted to individuals fully vaccinated with EU-authorized shots. Coronavirus vaccines authorized by the European Medicines Agency, the bloc’s drug regulator, include the ones made by Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.