BRUSSELS (AP) – The European Union will reopen its borders to travelers from 14 countries, and possibly China soon, the block announced Tuesday, but most Americans have been denied entry for at least two more weeks due to mounting coronavirus infections in the U.S.
While Europe’s economies are affected by the effects of the coronavirus, southern EU countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain are desperate to lure back sun-loving visitors and breathe new life into their damaged tourist industry. American tourists make up a large part of the EU market and the summer holidays are an important time.
Citizens of the following countries are admitted to the 27 members of the EU and four other countries in the visa-free Schengen travel zone of Europe: Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay.
The EU said China is “subject to confirmation of reciprocity”, which means Beijing must lift all restrictions on European citizens entering China before European countries allow Chinese citizens back in. Millions of travelers from Russia, Brazil and India will miss it.
The 31 European countries have agreed to start lifting restrictions from Wednesday. The list is updated every 14 days, adding or dropping new countries depending on whether they are controlling the pandemic. Non-EU citizens who already live in Europe are not covered by the ban, as are British citizens.
“We are entering a new phase with a targeted opening of our external borders from tomorrow,” tweeted President of the European Council, Charles Michel, who chairs the summits of EU national leaders. “We must remain vigilant and keep our most vulnerable people safe.”
American tourists made 27 million trips to Europe in 2016, while about 10 million Europeans cross the Atlantic annually.
Still, many people inside and outside Europe remain wary of Coronavirus-era travel, given the unpredictability of the pandemic and the possibility of second waves of infection that can affect flights and hotel bookings. Tens of thousands of travelers had a hectic, chaotic struggle to get home in March when the pandemic swept the world and the borders closed.
The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States has skyrocketed in the past week, and President Donald Trump also suspended in March a decree the access of all people from Europe’s ID-free travel zone, making it extremely difficult for the EU to US for the time being on their safe travel list.
Apart from a recent outbreak related to a slaughterhouse in West Germany, the spread of the virus has generally stabilized across much of continental Europe.
To qualify for the “safe” list, EU headquarters said that countries should have a similar number of COVID-19 cases per capita to those in the 31 European countries in the past 14 days and stable or have a decreasing trend in the number of infections.
Europeans also take into account those countries’ standards for virus testing, monitoring, contact tracking and handling and the overall reliability of their virus data.
For tourist sites and shops in Paris that already feel like losing customers from all over the world, the decision not to take over most American travelers is another blow.
In the heart of Paris, on the two small islands in the River Seine with Notre Dame Cathedral and a wealth of enticing boutiques, businesses were already mourning the loss of American visitors during the coronavirus lock, and now the summer season that normally draws a teeming crowd and creepily silent since France reopened.
“Americans were 50% of my clientele,” said Paola Pellizzari, who owns a mask and jewelry store on the island of Saint-Louis and heads the business association. “We can’t replace that clientele with another.”
“When I returned after closing, five companies were closed,” Pellizzari said. “As the days go by and I listen to the entrepreneurs, it gets worse.”
According to U.S. government figures, U.S. travelers spent $ 67 billion in the European Union in 2019. That was 46% more than in 2014.
The persistent absence of Americans also damages the Louvre, as the world’s most visited museum plans to reopen on July 6. Americans were the largest group of foreign visitors to the “Mona Lisa” home.
Sharmaigne Shives, an American living in Paris, longs for the day when her countrymen and women can return to the clothing store where she works on the island of Saint-Louis and drive out her blues because she has so few summer visitors.
“I hope they can get it together and reduce their numbers as much as possible,” she said of the United States.
“Paris is not Paris if there are no people who really appreciate it and wonder about everything,” Shives added. “I miss that. Seriously, I feel the emotion rising. It’s so sad here.”
A trading group of the largest US airlines, including the three flying to Europe – United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines – said it was “clearly disappointed” by the EU decision.
“We hope that the decision will be reviewed soon and that international traffic between the United States and the EU will at least be resumed on a limited scale,” said Nicholas Calio, CEO of Airlines for America.
US airlines hope Europeans will give credit to the US for taking steps such as temperature checks on passengers bound for Europe, which he said was discussed between the US government and EU officials.
Last year, United generated 38% of its passenger revenues from international travel, including 17% from flights between the US and Europe, while Delta and American were slightly less dependent on those routes. Business travel on routes such as New York-London is very profitable for all three.
In Brussels, the EU headquarters underlined that the list is “not a legally binding instrument”, which means that the 31 governments can use it at their discretion. But the bloc urged all Member States not to lift travel restrictions to other countries without coordinating such a move with their European partners.
Officials fear that such ad hoc actions could lead countries within Europe to close their borders again. Panic closings after the disease began to spread in Italy in February caused major traffic jams at intersections and delayed the delivery of medical equipment.
When publishing its list, the EU also recommended lifting restrictions on all people who wish to enter, who are European citizens and their family members, long-term residents of the EU who are not citizens of the bloc, and travelers with “an essential function or need, ”regardless of whether their country is on the safe list or not.
John Leicester in Paris, David Koenig in Dallas and Dee-Ann Durbin in Ann Arbor, Michigan contributed to this report.
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