Attention travelers! EU proposes reopening external borders

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A visitor kneels in front of the Last Judgement fresco by the Italian Renaissance painter Michelangelo inside the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican Museums on the occasion of the museum's reopening, in Rome, Monday, May 3, 2021. The Vatican Museums reopened Monday to visitors after a shutdown following COVID-19 containment measures. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

BRUSSELS – In an announcement sure to be welcomed by travelers worldwide, EU officials on Monday proposed easing restrictions on visiting the 27-nation bloc as vaccination campaigns across the continent gather speed.

Travel to the European Union is currently extremely limited except for a handful of countries with low infection rates. But with the summer tourist season looming, the bloc's European Commission hopes the new recommendations will dramatically expand that list.

The Commission hopes the move will soon allow travelers reunite with their friends and relatives living in Europe and support the bloc's economy this summer.

“Time to revive EU tourism industry and for cross-border friendships to rekindle — safely,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. “We propose to welcome again vaccinated visitors and those from countries with a good health situation.”

Under the Commission's proposal, entry would be granted to all those fully vaccinated with EU-authorized shots. Coronavirus vaccines authorized by the European Medicines Agency, the bloc's drug regulator, include Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. The EMA has not approved any vaccines from Russia or China as of yet but is looking at data for Russia's Sputnik V jab.

EU nations could also individually decide to accept travelers immunized with vaccines listed by WHO for emergency use. The U.N. health agency has approved the same four vaccines as the EMA, and is expected to make a ruling soon on China’s Sinopharm vaccine.

EU officials believe the bloc's COVID-19 vaccination campaigns will soon be “a game changer" in the fight against the deadly virus. Its proposal will be discussed with EU ambassadors this week and the Commission hopes it could start by June, once it is adopted by member states. Still, the recommendation is non-binding and EU countries will be entitled to keep travel restrictions in place if they want.

Commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz said fully-vaccinated travelers coming from outside the EU should be allowed to visit Europe but insisted that the proposal's goal is not to exempt them from testing or quarantines upon arrival.