EU toughens rules on entry for non-EU visitors

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union tightened its rules for visitors from outside the bloc on Monday, specifying that they would only be allowed in freely from countries with very few coronavirus cases and almost none of the more transmissible variants.

EU ambassadors agreed the new measure for travel from non-EU countries, including Britain, at a meeting in Brussels, an EU diplomat told Reuters.

Under the recommendation on non-essential travel, EU countries are encouraged to grant access without restrictions, such as mandatory quarantines, only under strict criteria.

The visitor would have to come from a country with no more than 25 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people over 14 days, an infection rate lower than in all EU countries.

Travel curbs should also rapidly be reintroduced for countries where a high incidence of more infectious coronavirus variants is detected, the text says.

The agreement by EU countries covers non-essential travel and serves as a guideline for EU countries, which have the ultimate say on their border policies.

Some EU countries, such as Germany, have imposed tougher restrictions, while Belgium has banned non-essential travel into or out of the country until March..

Last Thursday, the bloc cut Japan from its list of countries from which travellers can visit the bloc without COVID-related restrictions.

The list now consist of seven countries - Australia, China, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand, although China's inclusion is dependent on China allowing in EU visitors.

(Reporting by Sabine Siebold; editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Angus MacSwan)