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EU plans to reopen to fully Covid-vaccinated foreign tourists from June

The EU will reopen to holidaymakers from countries with low Covid infection rates, such as the UK, and to anyone who has been fully vaccinated, by the start of June under a European Commission plan.

With the rate of vaccination rising “dramatically” in EU member states, commission officials said it was time to relax rules on non-essential travel while legislating to provide for powers to pull an “emergency brake” if necessary.

EU borders would be reopened by the start of June at the latest, the officials said, with agreement due to be sought from member states this month.

The requirement to undergo Covid testing before or after arrival or to quarantine could still be enforced by individual states, but an official said: “Hopefully with the situation improving and the vaccination rate immensely picking up, we will also see a gradual phasing out of these additional conditions.”

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, tweeted: “Time to revive tourism industry & for cross-border friendships to rekindle – safely. We propose to welcome again vaccinated visitors & those from countries with a good health situation. But if variants emerge we have to act fast: we propose an EU emergency brake mechanism.”

Tight restrictions on those wishing to travel into the EU have been in force since last year.

The commission’s announcement will come as welcome news to people in the UK hoping to take a European summer holiday. Under the UK government’s plan to relax coronavirus restrictions, international travel for leisure purposes could resume from 17 May. A traffic light system is expected to be unveiled this week under which countries will be added to green, amber and red lists, with different rules regarding issues such as quarantine of returning travellers for each list.

Asked on Monday about the potential for summer holidays, Boris Johnson urged Britons to be cautious in making bookings. “We will be saying more as soon as we can,” the prime minister said. “I think that there will be some openings up on the 17th, but we have got to be cautious and we have got to be sensible and we have got to make sure that we don’t see the virus coming back in.”

Under the commission’s proposals, member states would allow travel into the EU of those people who had received the final dose of an authorised vaccine at least 14 days before arrival. The vaccines made in Russia and China – Sputnik and Sinopharm – are yet to be approved by the European medicines agency. Those administered with these jabs would not be able to rely on them for entry.

The commission added that unless quarantine and testing rules were waived, “children who are excluded from vaccination [will] be able to travel with their vaccinated parents [only] if they have a negative PCR Covid-19 test taken at the earliest 72 hours before arrival”.

However, even those who have not been fully vaccinated will also be allowed into the EU if they are coming from a country with a “good epidemiological situation”.

As it stands, only Australia, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand are on a green list allowing for non-essential travel into the EU. The commission is proposing to increase the threshold of 14-day cumulative Covid-19 case notification rate from 25 to 100. The UK’s rate is about 23.2 in every 100,000 people.

A senior official said the UK could be added to the green list but it would depend on a reciprocal willingness to open its borders to all EU citizens. “The figures for the UK are good,” the EU official said. “Those vaccinated in the UK will be eligible to travel to the EU but [we are] mindful of other aspects: reciprocity. It is still a principle under this new recommendation.”

The official added that Israel would be on the exempt list, given its low level of infection. “The UK: question mark. The US: for the time being, not quite,” he said. “But we see how quickly the situation in the US is evolving, notably for the rate of vaccination.”

The commission is also proposing, however, an emergency brake. When the epidemiological situation of a non-EU country worsens quickly, and in particular if a variant of concern or interest is detected, a member state will be able to “urgently and temporarily suspend all inbound travel by non-EU citizens resident in such a country”.

The only exceptions would be healthcare professionals, transport personnel, diplomats, transit passengers, those travelling for imperative family reasons, seafarers, and people in need of international protection or for other humanitarian reasons. They would instead be subject to strict testing and quarantine arrangements even if they have been vaccinated.

The commission will draw up a list of approved vaccination certificates issued by non-EU countries, with discussions with the US government said to be at an advanced stage. Talks are yet to be opened with the UK.

A UK government spokesperson said: “Ensuring free and open travel with our European partners is vitally important, which is why we will be engaging the European Commission on reopening travel routes from the UK shortly.”

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