• Reuters, Kyodo

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The European Union has removed Japan and five other countries from its list of safe travel destinations, meaning visitors or people returning from those countries are likely to face tighter controls such as COVID-19 tests or quarantine.

Following a review, the governments of the EU’s 27 member states agreed to drop Japan, along with Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Brunei and Serbia, the European Council said on Thursday. Uruguay has been added to the list.

Japan was previously removed from the exemption list in January, before being added again in June as the EU eased restrictions ahead of summer vacation season.

With the fresh travel ban, visitors from Japan for nonessential purposes such as tourism will not be allowed to enter EU member countries in principle, though each country has authority over its own border control policy.

With changes the EU safe list compromises 12 countries, including Australia, Canada and Saudi Arabia. Chinese territories Hong Kong and Macao are also considered safe.

The bloc still lets in most non-EU visitors who are fully vaccinated, although tests and periods of quarantine can apply, depending on the EU country of arrival.

The list seeks to unify travel rules across the bloc, advising that restrictions be lifted. However, it does not bind individual EU nations, which are free to determine their own border policies.

Germany, for example, already added Albania, Azerbaijan, Japan and Serbia on Sunday to its list of “high-risk areas” for which tighter entry restrictions apply.

Average daily COVID-19 cases in the six countries knocked off the EU safe list have risen sharply from below 40 per million people in late June to over 100 in the week to Sept. 8, figures from Our World in Data show, with Serbia at a 593 per million people daily average.

However, the case rate in Japan has dipped in the past two weeks to almost exactly the same as in Germany.

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