As of tomorrow, travellers from at least 14 countries including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Thailand will be allowed to enter the European Union, after representatives from the EU’s member states deemed those nations “safe”.
Travellers from China will also be permitted entry, as long as Beijing reciprocates the gesture, while citizens of the United States remain banned due to the country’s rising coronavirus infection rate.
The announcement comes as the EU bloc moves to reopen its borders in an attempt to save the European tourism season, while at the same time minimising the lingering threat of COVID-19, according to The Guardian. Other countries whose citizens the EU has decided should be allowed to enter include Algeria, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Tunisia, and Uruguay.
Citizens from the US, Brazil, Russia, and India—where infection rates continue to rise—will continue to be excluded. The so-called “safe list” will be updated every fortnight, however, and is only advisory, meaning EU member states can deviate at their will. The UK has in this case been treated as a member state, despite withdrawing from the EU in January.
Travellers’ freedom of movement will also remain constrained by whatever rules have been put in place by their own countries. Australian citizens and residents, for example, are currently banned from travelling overseas without an exemption. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has given little to no indication that this will be lifted any time soon, nor that citizens from the EU will be allowed to travel to Australia.
The countries included in the safe list were selected based on the reliability of their data, the likelihood of reciprocity, and their infection rates. The threshold for the latter was an infection rate of around 16 per 100,000 inhabitants—and only countries with comparable or better rates were eligible for consideration.
“The decision to lift restrictions for a specific country should be based on the epidemiological situation and coronavirus response in that country, the ability to apply containment measures during travel, and whether or not that country has lifted travel restrictions towards the EU,” the Union declared in a statement. “Restrictions should be lifted first with countries whose epidemiological situation is similar to the EU average and where sufficient capabilities to deal with the virus are in place.
“Restrictions should remain in place for countries whose situation is worse than in the EU.”
Travel restrictions can also be reintroduced for a specific country if the criteria are no longer met.
The news comes as Australia and New Zealand continue to negotiate a “trans-Tasman travel bubble”, which would allow mutual freedom of travel between those countries without the need for a 14-day quarantine. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday that whether or not that arrangement goes ahead depends on Australia making some decisions.
"Ultimately, it's up to Australia to decide whether or not they'll go for a whole of country approach or a state-by-state approach,” she said. "Nothing from New Zealand's perspective has changed, we've always said we will not move to open a trans-Tasman bubble until we have reassurances that New Zealanders will be safe."
Ardern also indicated, however, that certain parts of Australia still struggling to contain the virus may be out of the question.
"Where there is community outbreak, that is a no-go for New Zealand,” she said. "Where they have border controls in place and where they've had no community transmission for sustained periods of time then that may be a different scenario."
The Australian state of Victoria, in the country’s southeast, is currently experiencing a spike in community transmission, with a total of 288 active cases at the time of writing. Seventy-five of those were confirmed on Monday, and represented the state's highest one-day jump in new cases in almost three months. There are 670 active cases across Australia overall.
Global cases have exceeded more than 10.1 million and the death toll has surpassed 502,000, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.