LONDON—The European Union is lifting Covid-19 travel restrictions, allowing member countries to do away with quarantine and testing for vaccinated fliers traveling inside the bloc.
While the Omicron variant is still spreading across the continent, officials said the recent wave has reached a level at which travel restrictions may not help curb its footprint anymore.
“Omicron has by now spread across Europe,” said European Commissioner for Health
and Justice Commissioner
in a joint statement. The two said it was now time for member states to drop measures that they said make travel “more cumbersome and less predictable.”
The move follows new guidance from the U.K. announced Monday that will drop the requirement for testing on arrival there among vaccinated passengers. Airlines have contended that travel restrictions haven’t significantly slowed down rising case numbers of the new Covid-19 variant, and that the rules are no longer necessary. In the U.K., daily new Covid-19 cases have fallen from their Omicron-wave peak a few weeks ago.
“We believe testing for travel should now firmly become a thing of the past,” said
chief executive of British low-cost carrier easyJet PLC, in response to the U.K. announcement. “It is clear travel restrictions did not materially slow the spread of Omicron in the U.K., and so it is important that there are no more knee-jerk reactions to future variants.”
Carriers have complained that the tests add unnecessary expense to the cost of traveling, especially for families, and they introduced uncertainty that discouraged passengers from booking flights. The U.K. easing is meant to kick in next month right before midterm break for many schools—a popular time for overseas travel.
A number of EU states put in place tougher travel rules in recent weeks to curb the spread of the highly communicable Omicron variant and the already-rampant Delta variant—both of which were rampant in Europe late last year and through much of this month. Some of those rules were instituted abruptly, reversing months of easing restrictions.
France, Germany and the Netherlands, for instance, imposed bans on incoming passengers, 10-day quarantine periods for arrivals, and new testing requirements to curb Omicron’s spread.
The EU rolled out a digital Covid pass that smoothed travel by allowing airlines and airport officials to ascertain vaccination status, tests or prior Covid-19 infections. The relaxed rules will allow member states to rely once again on those passes to exempt passengers from testing and quarantine requirements.
Rules for travel to or from the U.S. don’t change with the move announced Tuesday.
About 1.2 billion EU-wide Covid passes have been issued since its introduction in June last year. Officials and executives say the certificate has been critical in the recovery of short-haul traffic in Europe, which had lagged behind the recovery seen in bigger domestic markets, including the U.S.
Write to Benjamin Katz at [email protected]
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Appeared in the January 26, 2022, print edition as ‘EU Eases Rules for Travelers Inside Bloc.’