US left off EU list of nations exempt from virus travel ban

The US has failed to make it on to a shortlist of countries to be exempted from an EU coronavirus ban on travel from outside the bloc, under a draft being voted on by member states.

Residents from a maximum of 15 nations — including China, Japan, South Korea, Canada and Australia — would be welcomed in the EU and the largely overlapping Schengen common travel area from July 1, if the proposal is approved on Tuesday.

The US has been excluded along with most of the rest of the world under the criteria, which include trends in published pandemic infection rates and whether these are currently higher or lower than those in the EU’s 27 countries. Washington retains its own ban imposed in March on visitors from Ireland and the 26-country Schengen area, which includes 22 EU member states.

EU capitals have until mid-day on Tuesday to object to the make-up of the list, which also includes Algeria, Georgia, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay. China would be added only if it lifts its ban on travellers from the EU.

European diplomats say the US was never considered as a candidate for an exemption, as its levels of infection — raised further by spikes in several states last week — put it well outside the parameters for inclusion. The officials insist the decision is based on epidemiology, pointing to the large number of other countries for whom the ban will also not be lifted.

“The US is way above the threshold,” said one diplomat. “And remember, the US is not open to EU citizens.”

Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, said last week that the US was working with European countries on reopening to find “the right way to do that, the right timing to do it, the right tactics to have in place”. He added that the US didn’t “want to cause problems any place else”.

The US embassy to the EU said on Monday: “We appreciate the transparency and concerted efforts of our European partners and allies to combat this pandemic, and we are committed to co-ordinating with them as we look forward to reopening our economies and easing restrictions.”

The EU listing exercise has generated lengthy internal arguments about who should be on it, given uncertainties created by factors such as inadequate testing, official manipulation and sudden outbreaks. The debate has revealed tensions between European countries sceptical about even a tightly circumscribed reopening and others desperate to revive their tourism industries in time for the main northern hemisphere summer holidays.

The result is a list that has been whittled down and is a “maximum” requirement, meaning that individual countries would be free to make it even smaller or even retain the existing blanket ban. The exercise is also only a recommendation, so member states could choose to let in more countries than are on the list — if they are prepared to risk the political fallout from doing so.

The list’s effectiveness could be further limited because some countries on it — such as Japan — deter journeys through restrictions such as quarantine requirements on travellers returning from Europe.

EU and Schengen countries have also yet to fully reopen their borders for travel between each other, even though the European Commission is pushing them to do so.

Greece said on Monday it would not allow flights until July 15 from Sweden or the UK, which is still part of the EU’s free movement system until the Brexit transition period ends in December. Both countries have faced questions over how effectively they have handled the pandemic.