Warmer weather and low coronavirus case numbers are raising hope in some countries in Europe that vaccine rollouts could usher in a more normal summer after an erratic year of lockdowns.
France announced on Wednesday, sooner than expected, that it was ending a mandate on mask-wearing outdoors and lifting a nighttime curfew that has lasted for months — an increasingly unpopular measure as days grew longer and cafes reopened.
“The health situation in our country is improving, and it is improving even faster than what we had hoped,” Jean Castex, the French prime minister, said in making the announcement, which some political opponents noted came a few days before regional elections.
In addition, tourists from the United States may be allowed back into European Union countries as early as Friday — a move crucial for lifting Europe’s battered economies. On Wednesday, ambassadors of the European Union indicated their support for adding the United States to a list of countries considered safe from an epidemiological point of view, a bloc official confirmed, though no official announcement is expected until Friday.
The traffic will be one-way, however, unless the United States lifts its ban on many European travelers, which was announced on Jan. 25 of this year, days after President Biden took office. The U.S. barred noncitizens traveling from many countries around the globe, including the Schengen area of Europe, the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.
In Europe, however, low infection numbers in many countries in recent weeks have been taken as an optimistic sign. But that is not the case everywhere. In Britain, officials are keeping watch for the Delta variant, which has spurred a rise in cases, and on Monday delayed by a month a much-anticipated reopening that had been heralded as “freedom day.”
And in Moscow, a surge of cases prompted a shutdown, leaving Russian officials pleading with residents to get vaccinated.
Still, the move to open up the European Union countries to tourists from the United States signaled a wider hope that the bloc is on a pathway to normality more than a year after the pandemic began.
But health policy in the European Union is ultimately the province of the national member governments, so each country has the right to decide whether to reopen, and to tailor the travel measures further — adding requirements for PCR tests and quarantines, for example.
Travel from outside the bloc was practically suspended last year to limit the spread of the coronavirus, with the exception of a handful of countries that fulfilled specific criteria, such as low infection rate, and their overall response to Covid-19. Until Wednesday, the list, contained a relatively small number of nations, including Australia, Japan and South Korea, but will add more to the list, including Albania, Lebanon, North Macedonia and Serbia.
Some countries heavily dependent on tourism, like Spain and Greece, have already reopened for external travelers in recent weeks. Germany also lifted more restrictions this month, announcing it would remove a travel warning for locations with low infection rates from July 1.
The European Commission recommended last month that all travelers from third countries who were fully vaccinated with shots approved by the European Medicines Agency or by the World Health Organization should be allowed to enter without restrictions, a policy switch that was first reported by The New York Times.
The loosening of travel measures was enabled by the fast pace of vaccination in the United States and by the acceleration of the inoculation campaign in Europe, and bolstered by advanced talks between the authorities on how to make vaccine certificates acceptable as proof of immunity from visitors.
The further opening of the European Union comes as the bloc finalizes work on a Covid certificate system, which is supposed to become operational on July 1. Fifteen member countries already started issuing and accepting the certificate ahead of schedule this month. The document records whether people have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, recovered from illness or tested negative within the past 72 hours, and it would eventually allow those that meet one of the three criteria to move freely across the 27 member countries.
Travelers coming from outside the bloc would have the opportunity to obtain a Covid certificate from an E.U. country, the European Commission said. That would facilitate travel between different countries inside the bloc, but would not be a prerequisite for entering the European Union.