EU decision to add UK to travel ‘white list’ to be delayed due to Covid variant fears

A decision in Brussels to add the UK to an EU “white list” of countries from where tourists will be welcome this summer is to be delayed, it is understood, due to concerns over the Covid variant first identified in India.

EU diplomats were expected to use a new lower threshold of infection cases to extend the list of countries at a meeting on Friday but sources said that the decision will be put back by two weeks.

While the UK easily meets a newly revised threshold of under 75 cases per 100,000 people over days, allowing it to be added to the list, the strong emergence of the India variant, or B.1.617.2, in the UK, is key to the delay.

The number of such cases in the UK stands at 3,424 – up 160% from the past week. It is believed to be more transmissible than the dominant variant first identified in Kent although analysis continues.

“Member states need a bit more time to look into developments regarding the Indian variant”, one diplomat said. “They want to prevent putting countries on and off the list too much. So back on the agenda in two weeks unfortunately.”

The maintenance of restrictions on non-essential travel will remain the central recommendation from Brussels to the 27 member states, although countries remain free to make their own decisions. British tourists have been allowed to enter Portugal from Monday following an announcement by the Portuguese authorities.

Earlier this week, the EU did agree on text recommending that fully vaccinated travellers could be safely permitted to travel into the bloc for non-essential reasons, such as holidays.

According to a separate agreement on Thursday between the EU member states and the European parliament, the intention is that those who can prove that they are fully vaccinated should also where possible avoid quarantine and testing obligations.

The EU is aiming to have an app ready to use by the end of June that travellers can use to prove their vaccine or negative test status.

Under the agreement on the so-called “digital certificate”, governments should not impose additional travel restrictions in response to the pandemic, such as quarantine, self-isolation or testing, “unless they are necessary and proportionate to safeguard public health”.

The agreement adds that where such measures are being imposed they should be notified to other member states and the European Commission at the latest 48 hours in advance.

Member state governments were further advised that they should decide on a case-by-case basis whether to act in line with that recommendation and competence over borders remains with the national governments.

Factors that would be taken into account when waiving obligations on fully vaccinated people travelling to the EU include whether the government of the so-called third country from where travellers are coming are reciprocating or whether Covid variants of concern have emerged.

The member states, parliament and commission also agreed that to make “affordable and accessible testing” more widely available, “at least €100m” would be provided in EU for the purchase of tests for the purpose of issuing “digital Covid test certificates”.

They funds are expected to benefit those who cross borders daily or frequently to go to work or school, visit close relatives, seek medical care, or to take care of loved ones.

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