Thinking about traveling to Europe this fall? You might want to reconsider. On Monday, Aug. 30, the European Union (EU) recommended halting non-essential travel from the United States as the delta variant continues to fuel the surge of COVID-19 cases. The United States, along with Israel, Lebanon, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo, were taken off the safe list of countries — a list of countries whose residents can visit the EU’s 27 nations without quarantining or testing.
What is the Delta Variant?
The variant is a highly contagious strain of the COVID-19 virus. It first appeared in India last December and quickly spread to Great Britain before arriving in America, where it is now the dominant strain.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the delta variant is two times as transmissible and causes more severe illness in unvaccinated people than previous strains. Vaccinated individuals with “breakthrough” infections have been found to spread the virus to others, but for a shorter amount of time than unvaccinated people. Vaccinated individuals are also less likely to experience serious symptoms.
Furthermore, the CDC also revealed a majority of cases have been among communities with low vaccination rates, along with nearly all hospitalizations and deaths. More than 90% of new coronavirus infections in the U.S. are from the delta variant.
Defining Nonessential Travel
The U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Canada describes nonessential travel as “recreational in nature” or tourism. For comparison, they define essential travel as “work and study, critical infrastructure support, economic services and supply chains, health, immediate medical care, and safety and security.”
What the EU’s Recommendation Means for Travelers
First, this does not mean U.S. travelers are banned from Europe. The recommendation does not explicitly bar Americans from traveling to any of the EU countries. The EU is simply advising its members to issue protocols like mandatory quarantine and testing, albeit primarily for unvaccinated people. Second, it does not bind individual states to the said agreement, who have complete autonomy over their respective border and travel policies.
As of Sept. 4, 2021, Italy, Sweden, and the Netherlands are the first countries to implement new rules. Here’s a look at how their guidelines will affect both unvaccinated and vaccinated travelers.
In Italy, visitors are required a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours before arrival regardless of vaccination status. Moreover, a report from Italy’s Ministry of Health stated unvaccinated travelers must self-quarantine for 5 days upon arrival and take a swab test at the end of their quarantine, with negative results.
As for Sweden, a press release from the Ministry of Justice indicates the country will adopt the EU measure, and will apply it to nonessential travelers, no matter if they are vaccinated or not. However, those with Swedish resident permits and recent negative COVID-19 tests are eligible for exemption.
The Dutch government has designated the United States a “very high risk” area. While vaccinated travelers from the U.S. and other high-risk nations will be permitted to enter the Netherlands, they must quarantine for 10 days. As of September 6, visitors must also show a negative COVID-19 test.
More countries could impose new restrictions in the coming days, weeks, or months. If you’re thinking of traveling, VALLEY suggests keeping your vaccination card handy and checking the entry requirements of your destination, regardless if you have been vaccinated or not.