European Union

European Union will open travel to fully vaccinated Americans this summer

Fully vaccinated Americans will be allowed to visit the European Union this summer. The European Commission president made the announcement through The New York Times on Sunday saying, quote, The Americans, as far as I can see, use European Medicines Agency approved vaccines. This will enable free movement and travel to the European Union. She’s the first top level official to comment about lifting restrictions. She said all 27 member states of the EU will accept fully vaccinated tourists, though some nations may retain certain limits.

There’s not yet a timeline for when the borders will reopen. CBS News foreign correspondent Holly Williams joins me now from our London bureau. Holly, welcome. Great to see you. Why is the E.U. deciding now is the time to reopen its borders to Americans? And how have some of those nations struggled without that American tourism?

Well, look, it’s the lead up to the summer, which is normally peak tourism season here and everywhere else. And I think that many European governments would dearly like to use tourism to help to breathe life into their economies, as you touched on just there. And this all came out of an interview in The New York Times by the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who said that vaccinated Americans would be free to travel to the EU. We don’t know when that’s going to happen.

We don’t know what kind of certification that they would need to show that they’d been vaccinated. But what we’re expecting is some kind of official recommendation to all 27 EU member states saying that this would be a safe thing for them to do in terms of the economic impact in a normal year, 15 million Americans make the journey across the Atlantic to Europe. Obviously, the last year has been anything but normal. But in terms of how much that does for the economies of different member states, it varies.

When you look at Greece, for instance, that country has already independently decided to allow American travelers in beginning last week, even if they’re not vaccinated. Why has Grace decided to do that? Well, it is exceptionally dependent on tourism. Around 10 percent of its labor force is employed by the tourism industry. And in a normal year, they get thirty three million visitors in a country with a population of less than 11 million. Separately, the aviation industry here in the U.K. is pushing for a travel bridge between the US and the U.K., saying that that should happen on the 17th of May.

That’s the day that the U.K. government has said it may start allowing non-essential international travel. And the people pushing for that air bridge say that the cost of not setting it up between now and September would be about three billion dollars. And, Ali, what are covid-19 restrictions like in the U.S. tourism hotspots, if Americans buy that expensive ticket and go there, will they actually be able to see anything? Will they be let into museums? What kind of experience will they have?

Well, that’s a good question.

And it varies from country to country. Some countries are just sort of starting to come out of lockdown. Now, for instance, in Italy, most parts of the country will allow bars and restaurants to offer outdoor table service beginning next Monday. They’ll also allow cinemas and theaters to reopen, although with sort of reduced occupancy. And then swimming pools in theme parks in Italy will open in most in most parts of the country in July here in the U.K., which is part of Europe, although not part of the EU anymore, they only allowed non-essential shops and outdoor service at restaurants to get going two weeks ago.

So we’re still getting used to our newly rediscovered freedoms. But if you go across the channel to France, they are still in lockdown. Non-essential shops and restaurants are closed. There’s a nighttime curfew that begins at 7:00 p.m. and even during the daytime, you have to stay within about six miles of your residence unless you’ve got a special reason for travel, for instance, seeing a doctor or visiting sick relatives. So, yes, it looks as though vaccinated Americans will be free to come to Europe in the summer.

How much fun they’ll be able to have here, I think is still a big question. And in terms of the vaccination status of most of the EU, what risks are Americans facing or what risks should they be aware of before deciding to book a trip across the Atlantic?

Yeah, so it’s no secret that the EU has been lagging far behind countries like the US, the UK and Israel in terms of vaccine rollout. Those three countries are really leading the pack. And there’s a lot of criticism earlier this year about the EU vaccine rollout, about procurement problems, which you touched upon earlier, as well, as well as allegations that some governments were essentially playing politics with the vaccine rollout. Is that now starting to turn around? Some countries in the EU now saying much higher vaccination rates.

It looks like in some places that is true. However, if you decide to come from the US to Europe this summer, you may well be going from an area with pretty high vaccination rates to a country with much lower vaccination rates. It’s possible that means you’ll be traveling to an area with much higher infection rates. And even if you’ve been vaccinated, there are still risks inherent in travel, just like everything else you do in your everyday life. All right, Holly Williams, thank you so much.

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