Tourists from outside the European Union could soon be allowed to visit the region, as member states have endorsed a plan to ease COVID-19-related restrictions on foreign travel.
Ambassadors of member countries to Brussels this past week agreed to a European Council proposal that would welcome the arrival of vaccinated visitors as well as nonessential travelers from countries that are deemed low risk. The council must now formally adopt the move for it to go ahead.
Under the proposal, people from non-EU countries may visit the region if they have been vaccinated with an EU-approved treatment. These include COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson. The European regulator is reviewing authorization of a vaccine from Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotec, as well as Russia's Sputnik V vaccine and treatments from companies CureVac and Novavax.
Unvaccinated nonessential travelers will also be able to visit the EU from a list of countries with low infection rates. These include Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and China (subject to confirmation of reciprocity).
European Commission spokesman Christian Wigand said the EU may soon expand its list of "epidemiologically safe countries".
The United Kingdom had appeared on track to join the list, however the recent spread of a COVID-19 variant first identified in India, known as B.1.617.2, could delay this.
"To limit the risk of coronavirus variants entering the EU, the council agreed on a new emergency brake mechanism, allowing member states to act quickly and in a coordinated manner," Wigand said.
The EU council could formally adopt the new rules in days. However full implementation of the proposal is likely to take longer since an international system for proof of vaccination does not yet exist.
The EU is working on its own so-called digital vaccination certificate, which would allow vaccinated EU residents to move freely between member states. Wigand told reporters last week that the system should be up and running by the end of June.
This past week UK authorities added a feature to the National Health Service smartphone application that will allow users to provide proof of vaccination at borders.
The UK has also rolled out a "traffic light" system for arrivals into the country. People coming from countries on the "green" list need only provide negative tests, while restrictions apply to those in the other two categories.