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Travelers from Israel said among those to be excluded from EU as borders reopen

Travelers from Israel are among those who won’t be permitted to enter European Union member states due to climbing coronavirus infection rates as borders partially reopen, a French newspaper reported Saturday.

According to a report in French daily Le Monde (French), the US, Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are also on the list of countries considered to be in a more serious situation than the majority of European nations, and therefore travelers from those countries will also not be allowed into the bloc.

Earlier this month, an Israeli airliner became the first commercial flight to land in Cyprus as the country lifted an 11-week ban on flights. However, Israel has since seen a surge in virus infections.

According to the Haaretz daily, the Foreign Ministry is concerned that Israel is slipping down the world rankings of countries deemed desirable for reciprocal tourism agreements.

According to the Le Monde report, visitors from Australia, Canada, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Rwanda, Thailand, Uruguay, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Georgia, Montenegro and Serbia will be allowed to visit EU member states.

For travel purposes, Britain still counts as a member of the EU until the end of its post-Brexit transition period. Four non-EU countries are members of the bloc’s Schengen passport-free zone.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this month that Israel has considered opening air travel with other countries that have low infection rates, including Greece and Cyprus, however since then infections in Israel have climbed.

Earlier this month, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades canceled a planned visit to Jerusalem, as the Mediterranean island nation expressed jitters over climbing coronavirus numbers in Israel.

EU envoys have argued for days on drawing up a list of criteria for reopening borders, with some member states worried about the reliability of coronavirus data, notably from China.

Sources told AFP that national governments were given until Saturday afternoon to approve the list of countries.

The toughest resistance to a short list came from Portugal and Greece, one diplomat said, both top tourism destinations that are hoping to salvage at least some of the summer holidays.

Countries highly dependent on tourism “want to reopen ASAP for as many as possible,” the EU diplomat told AFP. “The others are reticent to move fast to save eight weeks of tourism season, however important it may be.”

Non-essential travel to the bloc has been banned since mid-March and the restrictions are to be gradually lifted starting July 1, as the pandemic recedes — at least in Europe.

Whatever is decided in Brussels will stand only as a recommendation since border control remains a national prerogative and governments can in the end go their own way.

Some EU members want to limit the reopening to countries with an epidemiological situation “comparable or better” than that in the bloc — that is with 16 or fewer cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 inhabitants over the past two weeks.

However, the health-based criteria has collided with geopolitics, with some countries reluctant to ban the US while welcoming visitors from China, where the pandemic began.

One possible scenario would see the list updated every two weeks, allowing for a swift removal of banned countries as the pandemic evolves.

The United States is currently the country most affected by COVID-19 with more than 121,000 deaths — while Europe believes it has passed the peak of its own outbreak.

More than 2.3 million cases have been confirmed in the US, and several states in the south and west are experiencing severe outbreaks.

Header: Yiannis Karoussos (C), Cyprus’ minister of Transport, Communications, and Works, greets with an ‘elbow shake’ the first passenger arriving from Israel at Cyprus’s Larnaca International Airport on June 9, 2020 (Iakovos HATZISTAVROU / AFP)

Original: TOI and AGENCIES