BRUSSELS — The European Union on Monday recommended that its member countries place new travel restrictions on unvaccinated visitors from the United States, a fresh blow to the continent’s ailing tourism sector and a sign that potential measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus might remain in place for months.
The European Council of the European Union, which represents governments of the bloc’s 27 countries, removed the United States from a “safe list” of countries whose residents can travel without requirements such as quarantine and testing.
The change is not mandatory. Each E.U. member state imposes its own travel rules and can decide whether to follow the guidelines or not, so it was not immediately clear which countries, if any, would reintroduce restrictions or when they might begin.
If enforced, the new restrictions would only apply to unvaccinated travelers — the European Council already recommends that all visitors who have been fully inoculated with an E.U.-approved vaccine be allowed to travel. That includes the three vaccines available in the United States.
With more than 52 percent of Americans fully vaccinated, most were able to travel to Europe without hurdles this summer and can continue to do so. Yet the decision to remove the United States from the safe list could still create confusion among American tourists, and that is likely hurt the European travel industry, officials with trade groups said.
Most countries in the bloc do not require Americans to isolate upon arrival, but a few have kept quarantine requirements in place this summer, including, in some cases, for inoculated visitors. United States has remained closed to Europeans, who have expressed frustration at the lack of reciprocity.
Since June, most vaccinated American tourists have been able to enjoy the beaches of Greece, Spain or Portugal, the Italian countryside or the streets of Amsterdam or Paris without hurdles, boosting a tourism industry that was closed to them last year.
In countries such as France, Greece and Spain, U.S. visitors make up the largest contingent of tourists from non-European countries. In others, such as Portugal, total spending by Americans is among the highest of any nationality.
But as the United States returns to a daily average of 100,000 Covid hospitalizations over the last week, the European Council has advised E.U. countries to keep their borders shut to nonessential travel by unvaccinated Americans, in the hope of containing the spread of the Delta variant. The seven-day average of U.S. Covid hospitalizations peaked in mid-January with nearly 140,000 people hospitalized, according to federal data.
One of the council’s criteria for lifting restrictions is that a country should have fewer than 75 coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the past 14-day period, but the United States has a reported infection rate well above that threshold, according to data provided by the European Center for Disease Control. The United States is also classified as a red zone by the agency, the second-most risky color, after dark red.
Other criteria outlined by the European Council include a stable or decreasing trend in Covid cases. While reported coronavirus infections in the United States have surged this month, that figure has remained relatively steady across the European Union.
Other countries removed from the “safe list” include Israel, Kosovo, Lebanon, Montenegro and North Macedonia.