Nearly all travel between the U.S. and the European Union (EU) has been shut down since mid-March, as countries around the world closed their borders to non-essential travel to limit the spread of coronavirus.
Fast forward to May and June, and there was hope that Americans would be allowed to return. Iceland, Greece, Portugal, and others talked of welcoming tourists from around the globe as summer arrived.
But those hopes were dashed as the European Union Commission spelled out strict requirements for resuming international travel. Residents from just 10 countries outside of Europe are currently allowed in – and the United States isn’t one of them, due to the ongoing pandemic.
So what will it take for Americans to be allowed to return to Europe? When might that happen? And is there anywhere within Europe where Americans can currently travel in the meantime?
Behind Europe’s Decisionmaking
The current ban on Americans (and travelers from many other countries) entering much of Europe comes from the European Union Commission, which sets criteria based on guidance from the World Health Organization and International Heath Regulations.
Still, it’s up to the individual countries throughout the EU to enforce these travel recommendations – and most are. Twenty-four out of 27 countries in the EU and in Europe’s Schengen Zone are following through, including: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Croatia are not following that guidance. They’ve got their own travel restrictions in place.
But how is Europe deciding which country’s tourists are OK to enter Europe, and which are not? It comes down to three criteria surrounding the status of and response to the coronavirus pandemic:
- The number of new COVID-19 cases over the last 14 days per 100,000 inhabitants should be close to or below the EU average (as of June 15)
- A stable or decreasing trend of new cases over that period in comparison to the previous 14 days
- Overall response to COVID-19, including looking at testing, contact tracing, containment, treatment, reporting, and other factors
Reciprocity is another factor. So if China decides to allow EU residents to enter the country again, the EU is more likely to allow Chinese residents to enter Europe.
The Commission constantly reviews these data points, adding and subtracting countries from the approved list every two weeks. And so far, it’s not looking good for the U.S…
How Does The United States Stack Up?
By nearly every measure, the U.S. is falling far short of what it would take for travel to resume.
That’s most obvious when it comes to how many new daily cases are being reported in the U.S. According to the New York Times, the U.S. is averaging about 46,025 new cases per day – or just under 200 new cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period – the metric the EU looks at.
Criteria #1: No.
While the EU doesn’t publish a firm requirement for an acceptable number, comparing that figure to some of the countries that have already been allowed to resume travel to Europe shows how far the U.S. has to go:
- Australia has reported a recent average of 500 new cases per day – 28 new cases per 100,000 people spanning 14 days.
- Canada is averaging 391 new daily cases, or just over 14 new cases per 100,000 residents spanning 14 days.
Just look at the graph from Our World in Data, and you’ll see just how far off the U.S. is from countries that the EU has deemed acceptable.
Criteria #2: No.
That same graph also shows that case counts are not stable or decreasing over the last two weeks. That’s another metric the U.S. is currently missing for travel to Europe to resume.
Criteria #3: No.
And by almost every measure that the EU cares about, the U.S. has not done a good job responding to COVID-19 overall. Testing is not widely available, and results often take days to a week or more. The number of tests we’re performing has dropped in recent weeks. Contact tracing has been popular and wildly successful in other countries to limit the spread of COVID-19, but it’s little used in the U.S., according to the Scientific American.
The U.S. has the highest per capita infection rates in the world, followed closely by Brazil.
What Does This Mean For Americans?
As you can see the United States has a long way to go to meet the standards set for entry back into Europe.
Compared to the countries that are already allowed to travel to Europe, coronavirus case counts in the U.S. are nearly off the charts. Testing needs to become more widely available with much quicker results. Contact tracing needs to be utilized.
Unfortunately, this all means that it could be quite some time before Americans are allowed back into Europe. Just how long that it may take is in the government’s hands.
A Glimmer of Hope
The longer borders remain closed, the tougher it will be for economies to rebound. Most European countries rely on tourism – and American tourism, in particular.
Tourism makes up 25% of Greece’s GDP. In France, it makes up 9.7% of its GDP, accounting for 2.9 million jobs. And in Spain, the tourism sector is the third-largest contributor to the economy. Put simply, Europe needs tourism to come back.
Some countries have already decided they can’t go without tourism.
Croatia is the only member of the EU to which Americans can realistically travel right now. But the country requires a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours – nearly impossible for many Americans right now.
Meanwhile, the U.K. and Ireland both require travelers from the U.S. to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, effectively making those countries closed for U.S. tourism.
Other countries like Iceland, Portugal, and Greece have shown they are eager to find a way to bring American travelers back. As testing becomes more widely available (and it will have to in order for the world to recover), testing requirements like Croatia’s may become the path for more countries to restart tourism worldwide.
It’s safe to say that it will be a while before Americans can return to Europe. Just how long that takes is up in the air.
But don’t give up hope. Europe (and the rest of the world) will need tourism. Let’s hope our world’s leaders can get us on the right track, and figure out a way for us to safely open up soon.
This story has been updated to show that U.S. coronavirus cases are averaging roughly 200 cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week period – not daily.