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AFP
May 4, 2021

Covid vaccine rollout gathers pace: EU to reopen for vaccinated tourists

World

AFP
May 4, 2021

NEW DELHI: India´s total Covid-19 caseload neared 20 million Monday, in stark contrast to gradual reopenings in Europe and other wealthier parts of the world where rapid vaccination programmes have helped keep new cases down.Europe is looking at easing travel restrictions on foreign tourists as early as next month, if they are fully vaccinated or come from a country with Covid under control, officials said on Monday.

The European Commission is recommending EU member states agree to restart the bloc´s vital tourist industry in time for the European summer after a wipe-out season last year when travel plummeted worldwide.

"Time to revive the EU tourism industry and for cross-border friendships to rekindle -- safely," commission chief Ursula von der Leyen tweeted.

But there are caveats. Brussels is seeking to ensure the EU´s rapidly accelerating vaccination rollout is not threatened by new virus variants, and that there is reciprocity for Europeans going abroad. The commission statement said vaccinated people arriving in the EU on "non-essential travel" would need to have received EU-approved jabs, currently those from BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

Even if they are fully immunised -- meaning having received two doses, except for the single-jab Johnson & Johnson vaccine, then waiting two weeks for them to be fully effective -- EU countries can still require Covid tests, quarantine or even both.

Then there is an "emergency brake" allowing EU countries to halt arrivals from where a "variant of concern or interest is detected", such as those spreading in Brazil, India and South Africa.

"Even vaccinated persons would be subject to the travel restrictions coming from these countries subject to this emergency brake," said a commission spokesman, Adalbert Jahnz.Germany and France over the weekend sent medical equipment including oxygen-generating plants.

Among those preparing for a post-pandemic future is France, which on Monday relaxed controls on movement and allowed the partial return of students to classrooms as part of a four-stage process of opening up.

Greece reopened outdoor dining after six months of closures as it eyes the beginning of the tourism season. "Today I feel like I´m alive again, like I´ve been revived," joked Andreas Riminiotis, a retiree savouring the ambience at the Da Capo cafe in Athens the day after the country celebrated Orthodox Easter.

And in a jubilant call to action, Britain´s Prince Harry joined pop royalty including Jennifer Lopez at a star-studded concert in Los Angeles on Sunday to urge faster and more even global vaccinations.