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EU to Reimpose Travel Curbs on U.S. Amid Rise in Covid Cases

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 8/30/2021 Jasmina Kuzmanovic and Andra Timu

(Bloomberg) -- European Union countries voted to subject the U.S. to fresh restrictions on nonessential travel amid a surge in new coronavirus cases, dealing a blow to the tourism industry.

A qualified majority of ambassadors voted to reintroduce the curbs, which had been lifted in June, according to an EU statement on Monday. The change appears most likely to affect unvaccinated Americans.

The U.S. had 588 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the two weeks ending Aug. 22, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, well above the limit of 75 set out in the EU guidelines.

Airline stocks dropped in the U.S., likely in anticipation of the EU move. A Standard & Poor’s index of the country’s nine largest carriers was down 3% at 12:25 p.m. in New York.

The guidance from the bloc is a recommendation and any decision on who to let in, and what restrictions to impose, ultimately rests with the governments of each member state. Countries can also choose to accept proof of vaccination to waive travel restrictions. 

While countries have largely followed the EU guidelines, there have been times when individual nations have diverged from them.

chart: U.S. Covid Cases Soar © Bloomberg U.S. Covid Cases Soar

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. is still developing its international travel policy, including potentially strengthening testing rules and, “over time,” possibly requiring vaccination for all visiting foreign nationals. No final decision has been made, she said. 

“The fastest path to reopening travel is for people to get vaccinated, to mask up and slow the spread of the deadly virus,” Psaki said at the White House Monday. “We continue to work across federal agencies to develop a consistent and safe international travel policy; this includes travel from Europe.” 

The move to restrict visitors from the world’s largest economy is a significant setback for airlines and travel firms who have been pressing for a full reopening of lucrative transatlantic routes. Shares of Air France-KLM, IAG SA and Deutsche Lufthansa AG all came under pressure last week on news of the vote. 

Video: U.S. Set to Be Removed From EU Safe Travel List Due to COVID Cases (Veuer)

U.S. Set to Be Removed From EU Safe Travel List Due to COVID Cases

“This decision is extremely disappointing for Europe’s airlines and our ailing tourism sector, particularly given the risk of virus transmission among air travelers has proven to be extremely low,” the Airlines for Europe lobby group said in a statement Monday. “The overwhelming majority of international travelers today are either fully vaccinated, tested or recovered from the virus.”

Flagship European carriers such as Lufthansa and Air France have been counting on their long-haul passenger numbers to pick up. The recovery for airlines has not been equal across Europe, as low-cost European carriers have been able to benefit from Covid-vaccine passes, allowing for easy intra-European travel during the summer season.

Israel, Montenegro, Kosovo, Lebanon and North Macedonia were also removed from the EU’s safe-travel list. 

Travel between the EU and U.S. has been a point of political contention. The Biden administration has kept border restrictions in place despite pressure to allow visitors from allies like the EU that have eased their own curbs. U.S. officials have cited rising delta infections as one reason for that stance.

Vaccinations, Masks

EU rules specify that for third-countries to be allowed nonessential travel into the bloc the trend of new cases should be stable or decreasing and that no more than 4% of those tested for the virus are positive. The latest U.S. numbers represent the seventh consecutive increase. 

The guidelines also take into account whether variants of concern have been detected in a particular nation and whether it has reciprocated on opening travel.

Germany classified the U.S. as a high-risk area as of Aug. 15, meaning visitors need to show they’ve been vaccinated, have recovered from the disease or present a negative test result.  

France, Spain, Italy and Belgium also require some kind of test to show the traveler has Covid antibodies or proof of vaccination. But none have imposed quarantine rules.   

(Updates with White House statement in seventh, eighth paragraphs.)

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