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Officials Weigh the Cost of Closing EU’s Borders to American Tourists

European Union (E.U.) officials are set to meet today for discussions about whether to reimpose a ban on American tourists, given the downward trajectory of epidemiological conditions in the U.S.

The bloc had only recently reopened to non-essential travelers from the U.S. in June, when the U.S. met its criteria for ‘low-risk third countries (non-E.U. members). That, of course, was before the Delta variant of COVID-19 really began raging across the country.

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According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, in order for a third country to be placed on its ‘safe list’ for travel, its number of new COVID-19 cases seen over the previous 14-day period must be no more than 75 per every 100,000 residents. The U.S. has now far exceeded that threshold, with 507 new cases per 100,000 during the first two weeks of August, Fortune reported.

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In early August, when U.S. infection rates had already reached almost 270 cases per 100,000 people, the European Commission—the 27-nation bloc’s executive branch—convened to consider closing the E.U. to American tourists. The Council chose not to reinstate restrictions at that time but said it would revisit the issue in two weeks’ time and continue monitoring places like the U.S., where “the covid situation has deteriorated”, as an official told Washington Post.

The Council’s decision is bound to be influenced by more than just infection rates. Economic considerations weigh heavily into the balance, since the economies of more than a few European nations are largely dependent upon tourism revenue.

With the U.S. boasting the world’s largest economy, countries like Greece, France, Italy and Spain rely heavily upon American tourism spending. According to the European Travel Commission, an organization that seeks to promote travel to the E.U., the number of U.S. arrivals to Europe fell by 80 percent in 2020, compared to the previous year.

“Traveling and mobility is fundamental for the European Union economy,” said Luís Araújo, president of the European Travel Commission. He said that any abrupt changes to travel regulations impacts consumer trust in the tourism sector. “It’s crucial to give some confidence back to the sector,” Araújo added.

So, despite the U.S.’ poor epidemiological standing, it’s possible that the European Commission will opt to leave the United States on its ‘safe list’ because it’s increasingly concerned about the economic fallout of shutting down non-essential transatlantic travel once again.

Another factor the Commission takes into account when placing or lifting restrictions on any third country is reciprocity, which is something the U.S. government has thus far failed to provide. The U.S. ban on travelers coming from Europe’s Schengen zone, the U.K. and Ireland has persisted since former President Trump instated it back in March 2020.

The State Department has also recently issued its highest-level ‘Do Not Travel’ advisories for Britain, Cyprus, France, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain, despite the fact that infection rates in these countries are similar to those in the U.S.

The continuation of U.S. restrictions on travel from Europe has proven a serious point of contention, as officials work to fully restore transatlantic trade. The Washington Post reported that the White House redirects questions about the ongoing restrictions to its public health experts, while the CDC did not respond to a request for comment about the ban or when it might be lifted.

“We insist that there are comparable rules for travelers in both directions,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, said last week in an interview. “We have to solve the problem as soon as possible, and we are in contact with our American friends. This must not drag on for weeks longer.”

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