What does Australia’s removal from the European Council’s travel ‘white list’ mean?

<span>Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP</span>
Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

Australia no longer recommended as a country from which travel restrictions should be lifted. What’s behind the decision and what will change?

The European Council has removed Australia from the “white list”, a register of countries from which it recommends travel restrictions should be lifted.

The council’s list of epidemiologically-safe third countries is non-binding and countries within the European Union are able to set their own border requirements, which may involve quarantine or testing requirements.

What did the European Council decide?

The European Council said on 17 January it had updated its list of countries for which travel restrictions should be lifted, and removed Argentina, Australia and Canada.

The decision is non-binding on European Union member states and reviewed every two weeks.

Under the criteria used by the European Council, all restrictions on travellers from a third country can be lifted if the rate of Covid-19 infections in the past 14 days is less than 75 in 100,000.

Related: Covid live news: Omicron could mean ‘pandemic endgame’ in Europe, WHO says

The criteria also states that if countries accept proof of vaccination to waive travel restrictions such as testing or quarantine requirements, they should in principle lift restrictions on travel for all double-dosed international travellers.

This decision to remove Australia from the list was made in the 14 days in which Australia’s daily Covid numbers shot up from 30,000 to more than 100,000. In the past week, Australia has averaged 274 cases per 100,000, a 20% drop on the previous seven days.

The European Council criteria also includes an “emergency brake mechanism”.

It states: “Where the epidemiological situation of a third country or region worsens quickly, in particular if a variant of concern or of interest has been detected, member states should adopt an urgent, temporary restriction on all travel into the EU”.

At the moment, the list of countries for which European countries are recommended to allow not-restricted travel is: Bahrain, Chile, Colombia, Indonesia, Kuwait, New Zealand, Peru, Qatar, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, and China, subject to confirmation of reciprocity.

What does that mean for Australians planning to travel to Europe?

The chief executive of Flight Centre, Graham Turner, says the removal of Australia from the EU white list will have “minimal effect on vaccinated Australians travelling to Europe”.

“Each EU country has their own protocols and if you are vaccinated most do not require pre-departure testing and isolation at arrival,” he said.

“I believe the indications are that within three to six weeks Australians will be able to fly to North America and UK/Europe without pre-departure tests and tourists will be able to fly here under the same conditions.”

Cyprus, Greece and Italy have already said they will not restrict travellers from Australia.

Germany, meanwhile, has listed Australia as a high-risk area since 9 January, but quarantine-free travel is still allowed for fully-vaccinated Australians who test negative after arrival.

Does this affect travel to the United Kingdom?

No. The United Kingdom is currently open to quarantine-free travel from all countries.

If you are fully vaccinated with an approved vaccine and have a vaccine certificate, you are required to book and pay for a Covid-19 test before getting on your flight to be taken within 48 hours of your arrival in the UK. If you test positive you will be required to isolate but there are no separate quarantine requirements.

If you are not fully vaccinated you must take a Covid-19 test within two days before travelling to the UK, and then book and pay for PCR tests to be taken on day 2 and 8 after your arrival. There is still no requirement to quarantine.

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