BRUSSELS — The European Union agreed on Wednesday to reopen its borders to visitors who have been fully vaccinated with an approved shot and to those coming from a list of countries considered safe from a coronavirus perspective, permitting broader travel just in time for the summer tourism season.
Ambassadors from the 27 member states of the European Union endorsed a plan that would allow visits from tourists and other nonessential travelers, who have been mostly barred from entering the bloc for more than a year.
The move has been seen as an economic imperative for tourism-dependent countries such as Greece and Spain, and it has been months in the works. Other E.U. nations that are less reliant on tourists for jobs and income, particularly in northern Europe, had been eager to maintain higher barriers for nonessential visitors to keep the coronavirus at bay. But they relented as vaccinations advanced and after they were promised the ability to reverse course if cases surge again.
The new rules are set to become formal policy next week after clearing some bureaucratic hurdles, and, depending on how well each country has prepared to welcome tourists, could be implemented immediately. Some countries, like Greece, have already said that they will remove testing and quarantine requirements for vaccinated visitors. But most countries are likely to implement such changes more slowly and conservatively.
Some experts recently cautioned that restarting international tourism could be premature.
Dr. Sarah Fortune, the chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said that reopening areas to vaccinated tourists was a calculated risk.
“My doomsday scenario,” she said, “is a mixing of vaccinated and unvaccinated populations in a setting where there is high viral load and high viral transmission.”
Countries like Greece, Iceland and Croatia had opened to tourists from the United States and other countries before the bloc’s announcement.
Greece, where hospitality and tourism make up a large portion of the economy, was especially intent on reopening. Incoming tourists have to be vaccinated or present a negative PCR test taken up to 72 hours before their arrival, but they do not have to quarantine.
“Unfortunately, after more than 10 years of economic hardship, tourism and food is our only industry,” said Kostas Tzilialis, a co-owner and co-worker at a cafe and bookshop in Athens. “We don’t produce cars or machines. So we have to open our industry right now. Let’s hope that people will be careful and the vaccines will protect us.”
European Union member states will retain the freedom to tweak these measures if they want to take a more conservative approach, meaning that some European countries could retain demands for negative PCR tests or quarantines for certain visitors.
The bloc will also maintain an emergency-brake option, a legal tool that will allow it to quickly snap back to more restrictive travel conditions if a threatening new variant or other Covid emergency emerges.