The European Union flag flies in the wind in front of the economic bloc's office in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo: The Daily Observer)

EU takes US off safe travel list; backs travel restrictions

The European Union flag flies in the wind in front of the economic bloc's office in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo: The Daily Observer)

The European Union recommended Monday that its 27 nations reinstate restrictions on tourists from the US because of rising coronavirus infections there.

The decision by the European Council to remove the US from a safe list of countries for non-essential travel reverses advice that it gave in June, when the bloc recommended lifting restrictions on US travellers before the summer tourism season.

American Airlines Group Inc aircraft at Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Arlington, Virginia, USA, on Wednesday, November 25, 2020. The European Council has removed the US from a safe list of countries for non-essential travel. (Photo: Bloomberg)

The guidance is non-binding, however, and US travellers should expect a mishmash of travel rules across the continent.

“Non-essential travel to the EU from countries or entities not listed (…) is subject to temporary travel restriction,” the council said in a statement. “This is without prejudice to the possibility for member states to lift the temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU for fully vaccinated travellers.”

The EU also removed Israel, Kosovo, Lebanon, Montenegro and North Macedonia from the list.

In this June 27, 2021 file photo, motorcycle drivers wait to get fuel at a gas station in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon. The country has been removed from the European Union’s safe list of countries for non-essential travel. (Photo: A /Hassan Ammar)

The EU has no unified COVID-19 tourism policy and national EU governments have the authority to decide whether they keep their borders open to US tourists. Possible restrictions could include quarantines, further testing requirements upon arrival, or even a total ban on all non-essential travel from the US.

More than 15 million Americans a year visited Europe before the coronavirus crisis, and new travel restrictions could cost Europe billions.

The recommendation doesn’t apply to Britain, which formally left the EU at the beginning of the year and opened its borders to fully vaccinated travellers from the US earlier this month.

The European Union’s travel ban on The United States is not in effect in the United Kingdom, which left the bloc earlier this year. (File photo)

The United States remains on Britain’s “amber” travel list, meaning that fully vaccinated adults arriving from the US to the UK don’t have to self-isolate. A COVID-19 test is required three days before arrival in the UK and another test is needed two days after arriving.

Meanwhile, the United States has yet to reopen its own borders to EU tourists, despite calls from the bloc for the Biden Administration to lift its ban. Adalbert Jahnz, the European Commission spokesperson for home affairs, said Monday that the EU’s executive arm remained in discussions with the US Administration as both sides have so far failed to find a reciprocal approach.

The EU has requested that US President Joe Biden lift the travel ban on the European Union (Photo:AP/Andrew Harnik)

In addition to the epidemiological criteria used to determine the countries for which restrictions should be lifted, the European Council said that “reciprocity should also be taken into account on a case by case basis.”

The European Council updates the safe travel list based on criteria relating to coronavirus infection levels. It gets reviewed every two weeks. The threshold for being on the EU list is having not more than 75 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the last 14 days.

Last week in the U.S. new coronavirus cases averaged over 152,000 a day, turning the clock back to the end of January, and the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients was around 85,000, a number not seen since early February.

U.S. coronavirus deaths have been over 1,200 a day for several days, seven times higher than they were in early July.