Brussels – The European Union on Wednesday lifted travel restrictions for visitors from 14 countries outside the bloc, including Japan and South Korea, after introducing the controls in March in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The 27-member regional group is seeking to revive its virus-hit economy ahead of the summer travel season by removing the travel ban on countries with virus infection rates similar to or below that of the bloc.
Member nations can still take their own steps for visitors from the 14 countries, including requesting them to self-quarantine for a certain period, as immigration controls are under the jurisdiction of each country.
The other nations include Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, Thailand, Tunisia, and Uruguay.
China has also been provisionally approved, although travel would only open up if Chinese authorities also allowed in EU visitors. Reciprocity is a condition of being on the list.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga welcomed the move.
“We understand that the EU policy that exempts 14 countries, including Japan, from entry restriction takes into account objectively Japan’s infection situation and is based on amicable Japan-EU relations,” Suga said at a news conference Wednesday.
Regarding Japan’s entry restrictions, Suga said Japan is considering allowing visitors from Thailand, Vietnam, New Zealand and Australia while imposing infectious disease control measures, and will consider whether to expand the list to include other countries and areas, such as the EU, based on the infection situation at home and abroad.
Japan has an entry ban in place for about 130 countries and regions, including the 27 EU nations. Since the European Union seeks reciprocity on travel restrictions, the regional bloc is set to call for Tokyo to ease its measures.
The EU will maintain entry bans for countries with high infection rates such as Brazil, Russia and the United States for the time being.
The EU plans to update every two weeks the list of countries on which travel restrictions will be lifted.
Within hours of the EU announcement, Italy, which has one of the highest COVID-19 death tolls in the world, said it would opt out and keep quarantine restrictions in place for all nations that were not part of the free-travel Schengen area.
Canada said it was extending its mandatory quarantine order for travelers until at the least the end of August and a travel ban for most foreign nationals until the end of July.
The EU’s efforts to reopen internal borders, particularly within the 26-nation Schengen area which normally has no frontier checks, have been patchy as various countries have restricted access for certain visitors.
Nicholas Calio, who heads an U.S. airline trade group representing Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, United Airlines and others, said the U.S. government and EU had discussed potential enhanced screening of EU-bound Americans in recent days. He said he is hopeful that “at least on a limited basis” some American travel to the EU could resume soon.
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