Monday of this week the European Council made a non-binding recommendation to the member states of the European Union to impose a ban on travellers originating from a small number of nations, including the United States. It is clear that this recommendation is not a directive and that it will not be enforced, unless the member states choose to do so. So far, none of the member states have implemented the recommendation; but potential travellers from the US are rightly concerned and wondering what is going on. They want to know how to calibrate their risk.
This article will try to explain the situation as we understand it in the simplest possible terms. Throughout most of 2020 and much of 2021, as the world grappled with Covid, both the EU and the US maintained bans on travellers from each other from entering their territories. At the end of July this year, the EU lifted its ban on travellers from the US who could prove they were fully vaccinated with EU-approved Covid vaccines, which happen to be the same vaccines that are approved by the US CDC.
The EU lifted its ban on the entry of vaccinated travellers from the US with full expectation that the US would reciprocate by lifting its ban on travellers from the EU who could prove being fully vaccinated with CDC-approved vaccines against Covid. This expectation was reinforced by the objective reality that Covid had been brought further under control in the EU than has been the case in the US, where the Delta variant has flared and taken a more serious toll.
Despite pledges from such leaders as President Biden in July, and requests made by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and, reportedly, French President Macron, the US ban against travellers from the EU has not budged. That has provoked anger, frustration and resentment among Europeans and their leaders. The latter are already fed up with previous examples of American exceptionalism, and the continuation of the US ban goes against the grain of the European perceptions of fair play. Calls for retaliation first began in the month of August and gradually became more audible. The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, openly mentioned the possibility of European retaliation if the US does not reciprocate. Monday’s recommendation from the European Council has to be seen in this context.
Against that background, most European leaders are anxiously looking to breathe life back into the tourism sectors of their economies. Every effort is being made to prevent further lock-downs and travel bans. Could the desire for reciprocity (or revenge) be strong enough to motivate European countries to re-impose a travel ban on fully-vaccinated travellers from the US? We doubt it. There is too much at stake, financially speaking. We think that EU leaders will threaten retaliation, but they will not actually pull the trigger. To do so will result in a nasty increase in unemployment and government expense. It will also sour efforts for greater cooperation among the governments on both sides of the pond at a time when perceptions are that more cooperation is needed, not less.
There are also scores of thousands of travelers from the US currently circulating in Europe and a suddenly announced ban would create a logistic nightmare. We don’t expect to see any ban announced, but, if we are wrong, it would surely only take effect some time sufficiently in the future so that people caught in the middle will have time to take it appropriate measures. Airlines, police and border officials need time to be prepared to implement new measures, and we expect that, before that would happen, the US will finally get its act together and remove the despised ban. At least, that is the logical thing to do and we hope that the US will behave accordingly.
ANTIGEN TESTS IN FRANCE
While you are in France you may wish to have a Covid antigen test performed to obtain a hard copy or digital (QR code) certificate that certifies whether you are infected with the virus or not. Such tests have validity for 72 hours and can be presented while in France to gain entry to any venue that requires proof of vaccination or being free of the virus as a condition of entry. That includes all dining and drinking establishments, as well as museums and cultural or sports venues, as well as cinemas and shows. It is also required of all travelers from France who want to enter the USA, where border authorities only accept tests performed within 72 hours of entry.
We strongly recommend that you have your antigen test performed in one of the thousands of pharmacies throughout France that offer this service, rather than go to a clinical analysis laboratory. Not every pharmacy in France offers this service, but a great number of them do. In large French cities you have a considerable number from which to choose. Most pharmacies provide this service at the cost of only 29 € per test, and they provide the results within 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the establishment. Going to a clinical analysis laboratory for this test can result in charges well in excess of 100 € per person and the results may not be provided until late in the day or even until the next day. If you find yourself in a small community in France, give yourself enough time to locate a pharmacy that offers this service, as that might require you to travel to a neighboring community.
RECENT COVID STATISTICS IN FRANCE
76.8% of the French population has now been fully vaccinated against Covid 19, and daily infections nationally have dropped from an average of above 30,000 per day a few weeks ago to an average of well under 20,000 per day in the last week. It is expected that the percent of the French population that is fully vaccinated will exceed 80% within the next few days. That is the thresh-hold beyond which herd-immunity is anticipated, although that remains to be proved. Most encouraging is the % R number that has dropped further below 1 to the current 0.85 (nationally), which means that the rate of new infections with Covid has continued to diminish. This follows the experience of the UK, which for some time now has reported a diminishing rate of new infections, despite the perceived greater virulence of the dominant Delta variant. The Delta variant first spread and became the dominant Covid strain in the UK, before it reached France and became the current dominant Covid factor in France.