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EU to reopen its borders to fully vaccinated travelers

Bloc also agrees to ease criteria for declaring a country as unsafe; currently, only 7 nations are listed as ‘green,’ among them Israel

Illustrative: Passengers arrive at Faro airport in Algarve, south of Portugal, on May 17, 2021. (Patricia De Melo Moreira/AFP)
Illustrative: Passengers arrive at Faro airport in Algarve, south of Portugal, on May 17, 2021. (Patricia De Melo Moreira/AFP)

BRUSSELS — EU member states agreed Wednesday to reopen the bloc’s borders to travelers who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, European sources said.

Meeting in Brussels, diplomats also agreed to increase the level of new cases a country can hit before being declared unsafe — a measure that would open up travel into the EU from more places.

The recommendations will be adopted by EU ministers on Friday, they said. An EU Commission spokesman confirmed that the envoys had endorsed the update to travel rules.

Since March 2020, non-essential travel into the 27-member European Union has been banned, apart from a small number of countries deemed safe because of their low COVID case rate.

But businesses on the continent are reopening as virus restrictions are phased out and bars, hotels and restaurants are worried about the summer tourist trade.

Empty vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine lie in a box during a vaccine campaign at the Vaccine Village in Ebersberg near Munich, Germany, May 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Diplomats said that, under the new rules, travelers who could demonstrate that they had received the required number of doses of an EU-approved vaccine could enter the bloc.

In addition, the number of cases per 100,000 people that a country could register over two weeks and still be considered for the green list will rise from 25 to 75.

This would still exclude non-vaccinated travelers from much of the world, but could allow travel from, for example, Britain, which is well-advanced in its vaccination campaign.

The current green list only has seven countries: Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, plus China if Beijing agrees to reciprocate.

The 27-nation bloc looks set to expand this list to include other countries with low infection rates from where people could arrive with or without being vaccinated.

Individual member states could still decide their own rules on quarantine or testing requirements for arrivals.

German federal police officers check passengers arriving from Palma de Mallorca for a negative Corona test as they arrive at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, March 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)

Member states also agreed to set up a coordinated emergency mechanism to rapidly suspend arrivals from a non-EU country stricken by the sudden appearance of a new variant.

As it makes progress on opening up to the rest of the world, the EU is struggling to advance on establishing a common health certificate that would allow people to travel more freely within the bloc.

The so-called “green certificate” was supposed to be operational from June and ease movement for those who could show they’d been vaccinated, had a negative test, or been through an infection.

But negotiations to set finalize the scheme between the European Parliament, member states and the bloc’s executive have been making slow progress.

A further round of discussions is scheduled for Thursday as talks stumble on demands from lawmakers for tests to be free or their cost capped.

The delay is causing major concerns for some countries as they are desperate to free up travel before the vital summer season in a bid to revive battered tourism sectors.

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