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EU lifts travel restrictions for 'safe' countries, excluding virus-stricken US

If the Chinese government agrees to allow EU citizens travel there, the country may be added to the list.
Jun 30th 2020, 9:12 AM 67,054 46

Updated Jun 30th 2020, 5:06 PM

THE EUROPEAN UNION has agreed to reopen its borders to 15 countries excluding the virus-stricken US, as the pandemic accelerated globally with more than 505,000 deaths worldwide.

Europe’s piecemeal reopening comes as countries struggle to revive economic activity while fending off new spikes of Covid-19, with hotspots still surging in Latin America and in the United States. 

As Ireland is not in the Schengen Area it is exempt from the recommendation and can decide for itself which citizens to let in.

After days of negotiations, EU members finalised the list of countries whose health situation was deemed safe enough to allow residents to enter the bloc starting on 1 July  but the US was notably excluded, along with Russia and Turkey.

Those on the list are Algeria, Australia, Canada, Japan, Georgia, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay.

Travellers from China, where the virus first emerged late last year, will be allowed on the condition that Beijing reciprocates and opens the door to EU residents.

The border relaxation, to be reviewed in two weeks and left to member states to implement, is a bid to help rescue the continent’s battered tourism sector, which has been choked by a ban on non-essential travel in place since mid-Mach.

But with some 10.3 million known infections worldwide, the pandemic is “not even close to being over”, the World Health Organization has warned. 

“Although many countries have made some progress, globally the pandemic is actually speeding up,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday.

‘Whack-a-mole strategy’

Even in Europe, where infections have stabilised in many countries, the lifting of lockdown measures is still touch-and-go as governments try to reboot economies facing historic recessions.

The UK, home to Europe’s deadliest outbreak, has already seen its sharpest quarterly contraction in 40 years, shrinking 2.2% from January-March.

The worst is yet to come, with economists predicting a double-digit slump in output during the second quarter, tipping Britain into a technical recession.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed today to deliver an “infrastructure revolution” to help the country build its way out of the economic downturn. 

In the meantime, his government is employing a “whack-a-mole” strategy of targeted lockdowns.

While the government plans to reopen pubs, restaurants and hairdressers on July 4, schools and non-essential shops in Leicester, central England, have been ordered to close after a localised outbreak.

Germany, which has been praised for its handling of Covid-19, also saw its North Rhine-Westphalia state extend a lockdown on a district hit hard by a slaughterhouse outbreak.

And in Australia, a new spike in cases in parts of Melbourne spurred new stay-at-home measures affecting some 300,000 people.

‘Collective interest’

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan yesterday evening urged Irish people to cancel holiday plans abroad. 

“It makes much more sense to not go ahead with that booking and to risk travelling abroad, picking up this infection, risk for you, for any family member you be travelling with or indeed any close contacts you have,” he said.

I think that would be not just in your individual interest but in our collective interest.

Dr Holohan said he is “genuinely very concerned” about Irish people taking holidays abroad and “reimporting infection back into this country.”

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The Chief Medical Officer was speaking after health officials confirmed 24 new cases of coronavirus in Ireland, bringing the total number of cases here to 25,462, while the death toll from Covid-19 in Ireland is now 1,735.

“We are starting to see a worrying trend, with the number of reported cases increasing, and some new clusters,” Dr Holohan said.

Some EU countries have restricted travel from other bloc partners despite borders officially being reopened in Europe.

The original goal was to reopen to countries with an epidemiological situation “comparable or better” than that in the bloc – that is with 16 or fewer cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 inhabitants over the past two weeks.

However, the health-based criteria collided with geopolitics, with some countries reluctant to collectively ban the US while welcoming visitors from China, where the pandemic began.

- With reporting by Michelle Hennessy.

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