The European Commission proposed Monday to open member countries to vaccinated tourists from the U.S. and other places by early summer, while including an “emergency brake” in case the COVID-19 picture suddenly worsens from aggressive new variants.
Many European nations rely heavily on tourism revenues in their overall economy, and the 27-nation bloc had been working on ways to improve movement within its vast territorial reach. Monday’s announcement was a way to demonstrate the EU‘s splendors will be open to countries elsewhere as vaccines reach more and more arms.
“This reflects the latest scientific advice showing that vaccination considerably helps to break the transmission chain,” the commission said.
The picture was not all bright: In Germany, the state of Bavaria confirmed Monday it will cancel Oktoberfest, known locally as “Wiesn,” for a second year instead of welcoming revelers from Sept. 18 to Oct. 3 as planned. Other major tourist draws, including the famed running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, have already been scrubbed because of COVID-19 concerns
“The risk is simply too great that people could be infected with the coronavirus here,” Munich’s Lord Mayor Dieter Reiter told reporters. “I know how hard this is not only for the visitors, but also how much it affects all those who work at the Wiesn and now have to do without income once again — from the waiters and waitresses to the stall operators, showmen and innkeepers. But the Wiesn can only exist completely or not at all.”
The festival involves vast crowds of beer drinkers gathered around tables in a party atmosphere.
More broadly, however, EU officials sent out a message Monday that the bloc wants to welcome tourists back onto its streets, cathedrals and picturesque beaches.
A person would be considered fully vaccinated 14 days after receiving the last recommended dose of a vaccine that has received market authorization in the EU. Children of vaccinated people would be admitted with a negative test.
The plan, which will be debated this week, also envisions making it easier for unvaccinated people to visit by raising the threshold for what’s considered unacceptable transmission in their home countries. For instance, Chinese tourists might not be immunized with an EU-approved vaccine but they could still enter if their country continues to maintain a tight lid on domestic transmission rates.
Individual EU members can still require a negative test from travelers, though the Monday’s proposals were designed to encourage nonessential trips instead of banning tourists and other travelers outright.
“Time to revive Flag of European Union tourism industry & for cross-border friendships to rekindle — safely,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted. “We propose to welcome again vaccinated visitors & those from countries with a good health situation.”
Like other places, the EU issued lockdowns, canceled big events and limited travel throughout the year-plus pandemic. Parts of Southern Europe such as Italy and Greece are particularly dependent on travelers to keep their struggling economies afloat.
Europe is working on a vaccine passport, or Digital Green Certificate, to facilitate the proposal.
“Until the Digital Green Certificate is operational, [EU states] should be able to accept certificates from non-EU countries based on national law, taking into account the ability to verify the authenticity, validity and integrity of the certificate and whether it contains all relevant data,” the commission said.
The commission said it remains concerned bout dangerous mutations in the virus and has prepared a fallback plan to tighten things again as necessary.
“The emergence of coronavirus variants of concern calls for continued vigilance,” it said. “Therefore as counter-balance, the commission proposes a new ‘emergency brake’ mechanism, to be coordinated at EU level and which would limit the risk of such variants entering the EU.”
The threat of variants from elsewhere is the main threat to countries seeing progress due to vaccination. That’s why the U.S. and other places banned travel from India as New Delhi sees an unprecedented surge that may be fueled by variants.
Australia recently took things to an extreme, saying as of Monday even its citizens could not enter from India. The decision outraged Indian Australians and others who said it was without precedent.