Europe Bars American Travelers, Citing Virus Surge in US

Arriving passengers await their bags in the baggage claim area at LaGuardia Airport’s Terminal B baggage claim area on Thursday in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

(CN) — The American accent will be missing among the flocks of travelers this summer in Europe. 

On Tuesday, European Union leaders said travelers from the United States will be barred from entering the EU until the U.S. manages to contain its coronavirus outbreak. The U.S. was not on a list of 15 countries the EU considers safe to breach its borders. Russia, Israel, Mexico, India and Brazil, among many other countries, were left off the list.

EU authorities closed their borders to outsiders in mid-March as the coronavirus pandemic worsened, but with the outbreak now largely controlled European countries are set to welcome international travelers again on Wednesday.

Americans, though, won’t be among those setting foot in Europe. Because of the surge in new coronavirus cases each day in the U.S., the EU deems American travelers too risky to allow into the bloc until the U.S. gets its coronavirus outbreak under control.

The ban from Europe, a long-cherished romantic destination for millions of Americans, is an embarrassment for Americans and a rebuke to President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic. The number of new coronavirus infections is surging across the U.S., which is already the worst-hit nation in the world with about 2.7 million cases and about 129,000 deaths linked to Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Tuesday’s move to open their borders to only 15 nations is in keeping with the slow and gradual approach European nations have taken in reopening their societies and borders within the EU, a bloc built around the free movement of people and goods across borders.

The list of safe countries is very short and includes Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay. China was also included on the list, but the EU said China needs to reopen its borders to EU travelers before Chinese travelers can be admitted into the EU.

Passengers arrive at the airport in Barcelona, Spain, on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

The list was approved by the European Council, an EU decision-making body made up of the heads of states in the bloc. It was a council recommendation but individual European states are unlikely to deviate from the council’s position even though many European countries rely heavily on tourism and are eager for tourism revenues.

The EU is lifting travel restrictions on countries where the coronavirus outbreak is under control and where authorities are taking steps to keep the virus in check, such as tracking down potential carriers and requiring social distancing.

Among other criteria, the EU said it is lifting bans on countries where the number of new coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants is close to or below the EU average. On average, the EU is registering about 16 new infections per 100,000 people while the U.S. is reporting about 107 new infections per 100,000 people. 

The EU is allowing some exceptions to its travel bans for medical workers, diplomats, humanitarian workers, transit passengers, asylum seekers, essential foreign workers and students. Exceptions also are being made for American athletes, such as several professional cyclists hoping to participate in a truncated cycling season set to begin in August when the Tour de France is scheduled to start.

Travel bans are controversial and the World Health Organization does not endorse them as an instrument to fight the pandemic. The global health agency says countries should implement other measures to contain the spread of the virus, such as rigorous testing of travelers and quarantines.

Trump infuriated his European counterparts by implementing a ban on EU travelers in March after Europe’s outbreak worsened. A few days later, the EU imposed its own restrictions on American travelers. European travelers are still banned from the U.S.

The U.S. Travel Association blasted the EU’s decision to bar American travelers.

“The E.U.’s announcement is incredibly disappointing, and a step in the wrong direction as we seek to rebuild our global economy,” said spokeswoman Tori Emerson Barnes.

She said travel can be made safe through the wearing of masks and other measures.

“We are at a stage when it should be possible to make progress,” she said. “This is unwelcome news, and will have major negative implications for an economic recovery – particularly if this ban results in cycles of retaliation, as is so often the case.”

More than 15 million Americans are estimated to travel to Europe each year and about 10 million Europeans cross the Atlantic for vacations and business each year.

The EU safe list does not apply to travel to the United Kingdom, which left the EU in January. Britain requires almost all incoming travelers to go into a self-imposed 14-day quarantine, although the measure is under review and is likely to ease in the coming weeks. The requirement also applies to U.K. citizens.


Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

%d bloggers like this: