Continental Europe could allow US tourists back this summer

Marcel Schmetz raises the American flag next to a WWII American Sherman tank at his Remember Museum 39-45 in Thimister-Clermont, Belgium. Tourists from the United States who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 could be able to travel across the European Union this summer, officials said Monday.

BRUSSELS — American tourists could soon be visiting continental Europe again, more than a year after the European Union restricted travel to the 27-nation bloc to a bare minimum to contain the coronavirus.

EU officials said Monday they are completing plans to allow Americans back this summer, depending on the course of the outbreak on both sides of the Atlantic.

The EU Commission, the EU’s executive arm, will make a proposal soon to its member states but didn’t say when exactly leisure travel could resume or whether a reciprocal approach will apply to Europeans wanting to visit the U.S., which has closed its doors to tourists from the continent.

Also, it was not immediately clear whether all U.S. tourists would have to produce proof of vaccination for entry, or whether a negative test for the coronavirus or proof of recent recovery from COVID-19 would be acceptable instead.

“These are among the questions we’ll still need to figure out,” European Commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz said. Jahnz said the EU’s executive body is hoping to restore trans-Atlantic leisure travel “as soon as it is safe to do so.”

On Sunday, the New York Times quoted Commission President Ursula von der Leyen as saying fully vaccinated Americans will be able to visit EU countries this summer since all coronavirus vaccines used in the U.S. have also been approved by the EU’s regulator, the European Medicines Agency.

“This will enable free movement and the travel to the European Union,” she said. “Because one thing is clear: All 27 member states will accept, unconditionally, all those who are vaccinated with vaccines that are approved by EMA.”

With more than 15 million Americans a year visiting Europe before the crisis, the prospect of U.S. travelers once more flocking to such attractions as the Eiffel Tower, the canals of Venice or Germany’s Brandenburg Gate is welcome news for the continent’s hard-hit tourism industry.

EF Go Ahead Tours, a Boston-based company that offers small group tours to Europe and elsewhere, said it expects demand to be extremely high once Americans can visit Europe again.

When Iceland reopened its borders earlier this month, bookings surged, and most summer tour dates are now sold out, the company said. Over the last month, as more Americans got vaccinated, the company also saw double-digit growth in European tour reservations for dates in 2022 and 2023.

The International Air Transport Association, a trade group that represents 290 airlines in 120 countries, applauded the news.

“This is a step in the right direction,” IATA General Director Willie Walsh said in a statement. “It gives hope to people for so many reasons — to travel, to reunite with loved ones, to develop business opportunities or get back to work.”

The group said people who test negative for COVID-19, not just those who get vaccinated, should be allowed to travel freely. IATA also said it is critical to develop globally recognized standards for vaccine certification. IATA is among groups testing a vaccine passport system.

Jahnz said the EU has been following closely the vaccination drive in the U.S, where more than 94 million people 18 or older, or about 36.5 percent of the adult population, have been fully vaccinated.

The slow rollout of vaccines in the EU has left the bloc lagging well behind the U.S. But Von der Leyen said Monday that the region, home to around 450 million people, has already passed 123 million vaccinations and is on track to have vaccinated 70 percent of all adults by July.

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