International travel restrictions are being reconsidered as vaccination rates rise.
By Laina S. Miller and Logan H. Arneson; Capital News Service Washington Bureau

With summer almost here and travelers itching to depart, countries around the world are still wary about letting international visitors across their borders.

But recent statements from the European Commission, as well as signs from some other top-destination travel countries, offer some hope that Americans may soon be able to plan international trips.

The EU on May 3 proposed a path for member countries to ease restrictions on non-essential travel due to the increase in worldwide COVID-19 vaccinations.

“The Commission proposes to allow entry to the EU for non-essential reasons not only for all persons coming from countries with a good epidemiological situation but also all people who have received the last recommended dose of an EU-authorised vaccine,” the EU statement said.

Four of the top 10 most popular international destinations for American tourists are in the EU: France, Italy, Germany and Spain.

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still is recommending that no Americans travel to those four nations and five others in the top 10: Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Dominican Republic and Jamaica.

The CDC did not nix travel to China, but urged the usual COVID precautions.

“All travelers should wear a mask, avoid crowds, stay at least 6 feet from people who are not traveling with you, wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer, and watch your health for signs of illness,” the CDC says on its website.

In contrast, hopeful vacationers are warned to stay away from China by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, but not because of COVID dangers.

“The People’s Republic of China government arbitrarily enforces local laws, including… wrongful detentions and… exit bans on U.S. citizens and citizens of other countries without due process of law,” the agency warns on its website.

Canada and Mexico, the two most popular international tourist destinations for Americans, are maintaining closed border agreements with the United States. Officially, the closed borders among Canada, Mexico and the United States are set to end on May 21, but the closures have been renewed more than once and may continue to be renewed until sometime later this summer, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Information Center.

One traditionally major international travel draw is not going to be open to Americans – or to anyone else: the rescheduled 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo are slated to go on in July with only Japanese spectators.

India’s struggle to curb the pandemic appears to have barely started. The numbers of cases and deaths still are rising.

African nations, meanwhile, are scrambling to get vaccines. The World Health Organization reported last month that less than 2% of available global vaccines had been administered on the continent.

“Africa is already playing COVID-19 vaccination catch-up, and the gap is widening. While we acknowledge the immense burden placed by the global demand for vaccines, inequity can only worsen scarcity,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, COVID-19 has been surging. Brazil’s health system has been near collapse and the CDC has warned that “even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants.”

While Australia has reduced cases to a mere handful, officials have been cautious about reopening that country. Local travel officials say they expect to see easing of restrictions by early summer.

Meanwhile, most major cruise ship lines have set the earliest resumption of operations for the end of June, Travel Weekly reported. Some previously scheduled cruises out of U.S. ports have been postponed until at least August.

In Europe, even as the EU begins contemplating reopening borders to outsiders, individual countries have been more verbally proactive about plans for this summer.

“We will progressively lift the restrictions of the beginning of May…We are working hard to propose a very concrete solution, especially for U.S. citizens who are vaccinated, so with a special pass,” French President Emmanuel Macron said on April 19.

The so-called “special pass” refers to the Digital Green Certificate program currently in progress in Europe, where travelers “should be able to prove their vaccination status,” according to the EU, with allowances made for similar proof-of-vaccination certificates from non-EU countries like the United States.

The Italian government is similarly eager to reopen to travelers, according to Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

“Our cities and our countryside are reopening, and this process will speed up in the coming weeks and months…I have no doubt that tourism in Italy will bounce back, as strong as it was before – and even stronger,” Draghi said in a speech after the G20 Tourism Ministers’ Meeting on May 4. “It’s time for you to book your holidays in Italy. We look forward to welcoming you again, soon.”

President Joe Biden is hoping that 70% of Americans will have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccination by July 4. At the moment, that figure is about 56%. He also hopes that by that time a total of 160 million adults will be fully vaccinated.

The president’s goal theoretically could be met around the same time that some countries are hoping to loosen their international travel laws.

The EU is particularly hopeful that vaccination rates will continue to improve.

Continued successful vaccination campaigns “indicate that there is room to ease travel restrictions, particularly for those already vaccinated,” the EU said. “In this sense, this proposal aims at progressively resuming travel from third countries in a safe manner, relaunching tourism, especially in view of the summer season, and business traveling, thus fostering the recovery of Europe’s economy.”

The imposition of international travel bans in most countries as the global pandemic surged in 2020 were a huge financial hit to the world’s tourism industry.

A recent report from the World Travel and Tourism Council said the U.S. travel and tourism industry saw a GDP loss of $766 billion in 2020, a 41 percent drop from the $1.9 trillion generated by travel and tourism in 2019.

With the staggering loss of jobs and business, the U.S. economy, as well as those of other countries, plummeted during the pandemic. Travel-supported jobs worldwide decreased from 16.7 million in 2019 to 11.1 million in 2020, according to the WTTC.