The European Union has removed the U.S. from its safe travel list and no longer recommends its member states ease restrictions on nonessential travel for all Americans as COVID-19 cases spike.
Europe had been slowly reopening to American tourists since May, when the EU said anyone fully vaccinated with an EU-approved vaccine should be allowed to visit member states for nonessential travel, but affirmed each EU nation has the power to set its own policies.
In June, the EU added the U.S. to its safe travel list, recommending its members gradually ease travel restrictions for all Americans and open the door to unvaccinated travelers, again leaving ultimate decision-making to each EU nation.
However, criteria for the safe travel list include having "a stable or decreasing trend of new COVID cases" over the previous two weeks, according to the European Council.
The EU's updated guidance comes as the U.S. faces its fourth wave of COVID-19, driven by the highly contagious delta variant. New U.S. cases are averaging over 150,000 a day, turning the clock back to the end of January, and hospitalizations are nearing 100,000 a day. For days, U.S. coronavirus deaths have been seven times higher than they were in early July. Just over 52% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
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This nonbinding recommendation does not mean an end to European travel. Vaccinated tourists should still be allowed to visit member states that allow vaccinated visitors. Also, individual member states could decide to allow unvaccinated visitors, regardless of the recommendation. The EU urges all travelers to check the rules of the specific countries they plan to visit.
The EU also removed Israel, Kosovo, Lebanon, Montenegro and The Republic of North Macedonia from its safe travel list, which is reviewed every two weeks.
European travel restrictions already in place
Some EU countries have already tightened restrictions.
In addition to a wide range of entry requirements, European countries have varying restrictions once tourists arrive, including health passes or COVID-19 vaccine requirements to visit attractions in places like France and Italy.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has raised its travel advisory levels for multiple countries in recent weeks, urging Americans to avoid travel to places like France, Iceland, Greece, Spain and Portugal.
Adding to the complex international travel landscape, the United States has no plans to lift travel restrictions given the rise of the delta variant, according to White House officials.
The country’s current travel restrictions deny entry for people from the European Schengen area, United Kingdom and other countries.
A blow to airlines serving Europe
With travel restrictions lifted so close to the start of summer vacation season, airlines added flights to popular destinations, including Greece, Italy and France, but weren't sure how full planes to Europe would be this summer. Travelers book Europe trips months or more in advance, and a big concern was that vacationers had already made other plans.
They were pleasantly surprised with bookings soaring as soon as countries announced relaxed restrictions.
Vasu Raja, American Airlines' chief revenue officer, said Wednesday that the rate of close-in flight bookings was historical.
"We had certainly no precedent for it within any of our archives,'' Raja said at an investor conference. "And I suspect we weren't alone in that.''
Airlines had been expecting travel to Europe to remain strong beyond the traditional summer season given the pent-up demand, but the surge in cases and new restrictions like those the EU is implementing will put a big damper on that forecast.
Raja said Wednesday that American's overall August revenue is below expectations due to a slowdown in bookings and rising trip cancellations due to concern about the delta variant.
Contributing: Dawn Gilbertson, Julia Thompson, USA TODAY; Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Europe travel: EU reverses guidance on US tourists as COVID spikes