The European Union has formally agreed a set of recommendations that will allow travellers from outside the bloc to visit EU countries, months after it shut its external borders in response to the outbreak of COVID-19.
As had been widely expected, the list of 14 countries does not include the United States, whose current infection rate does not meet the criteria set by the EU for it to be considered a “safe country.”
The criteria requires that confirmed COVID-19 cases in countries on the list are similar or below that of the EU’s per 100,000 citizens over the previous 14 days (starting from June 15).
Countries must also have a “stable or decreasing trend of new cases over this period in comparison to the previous 14 days,” while the EU will consider what measures countries are taking, such as contact tracing, and how reliable each nation’s data is.
The U.S. has not only the highest number of reported coronavirus infections of any nation, currently 2,590,582, but also the highest number of deaths, at 126,141, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.
Earlier this week, it was reported that at least 16 U.S. states were halting plans to reopen, as reported COVID-19 infections surged across the country.
The European Union list is expected to be reviewed every two weeks, however, EU diplomats were eager to stress on Tuesday that it was “highly unlikely” the criteria for inclusion would be altered.
This means U.S. infection rates will need to dramatically drop if Americans are to be allowed entry to European countries, just as the European tourism industry enters what are traditionally its peak months.
China, where the virus originated, is not on the initial list of 14, but the EU is willing to place it on that list if the Chinese government reciprocates and allows EU citizens to enter its borders.
Travellers in countries that did not make the list can still enter if they fall under the following exemptions: EU citizens or family members of an EU citizen; long-term EU residents or family members; those with an “essential function or need,” such as diplomats, healthcare workers or certain agricultural workers.
While the recommendations and list of countries are clear, border control is something that is handled at a national level, rather than at an EU level in Brussels. As the Council says, the recommendation “is not a legally binding instrument. The authorities of the member states remain responsible for implementing the content of the recommendation.”
However, it is not expected that member states will deviate from the recommendations in a direction that allows for more countries to be added to their lists.
The decision was delayed by more than two hours after at least two countries requested the deadline be pushed back, amid concerns about the risks of opening up. EU sources told CNN that at least three countries had abstained on the recommendations for the same reasons.
The list of countries included in the recommendations are: Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia, Uruguay.
The recommendations are expected to come into force as early as July 1, however, it remains up to member states to decide exactly how the implement any changes in border policy.
EU officials had previously stressed to CNN that the decisions taken this week are not political, but based on science and aim only to protect citizens from the virus resurging across the continent. However, those same officials await the response from U.S. President Donald Trump, who has previously attacked the EU on other issues such as trade and foreign policy.