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The summer season is almost here, and the European countries are set not to let summer 2020 repeat itself.
European Union Member States, in particular those that heavily rely on tourism, have started to prepare for summer 2021 early at the beginning of the year in an attempt to revive travel to their territory by enabling tourists to safely visit.
Increased testing capacity, total lockdowns at the beginning of the year in a bid to lower the numbers of cases, complete bans on non-essential arrivals, especially from countries with virus mutations, have all been parts of these attempts, SchengenVisaInfo.com reports.
Moreover, the Member States, under the recommendation of the EU, for long now, have been applying traffic light systems in order to differentiate the risk of travel from the rest of the EU countries, imposing restrictions on arrivals based on this system.
The most serious idea within the block has undoubtfully been the creation of the travel certificate, proposed first to the EU Commission by the Prime Minister of Greece Kyriakos Mitsotakis. While the EU has been working on a unified approach for the creation of such a document, the Member States have moved forward establishing their own schemes, claiming that once the EU’s document is ready, they would align their national document with it.
Last weekend, the EU Council’s Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper) unanimously showed their support for an agreement on the EU travel certificate, previously reached between the Council and the European Parliament on May 20.
Now for the procedures for the document to be completed, the Council will send a letter to the European Parliament, officially communicating the support of the Coreper on the agreement for the establishment of the certificate.
After the legislation is signed into effect, the regulations will be published in the Official Journal of the EU and apply from July 1.
In the meantime, the journey of each Member State towards the reopening has been different from the others and has often depended on how the country handled the virus at the very start and later on the vaccination campaign rollout.
Recently, countries that rely more on tourism, like Greece, have rushed to facilitate entry restrictions and open to international tourists step by step. Even some countries, like France that at the beginning had a tough stance on the reopening of the borders for international travellers, now are slowly catching the pace.
Below, find out how some of the EU and Schengen Area countries have reopened their borders and are preparing to reopen for international tourists this summer.
One of the top tourism destinations in Europe, France, has experienced a massive loss of €103 billion during 2020 after the travel and tourism sector’s contribution to France’s gross domestic product (GDP) dropped by 48.8 per cent amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the country is set to stop such a massive loss from taking place again in 2021.
In mid-April, French President Emanuel Macron revealed that France was in its last stage of finalising a plan for the lifting of travel restrictions for vaccinated travellers from the European Union and some third countries like the United States.
“We will progressively lift the restrictions of the beginning of May, which means that we will organise in the summertime with our professionals in France for French European citizens, but as well for American citizens,” he said.
And while the beginning of May has come and gone, France still claims it is working on a concrete solution to permit entry for vaccinated tourists from all around the globe through “a special pass”, as President Macron said.
Instead of the “special pass,” the country has revealed its plans to start categorising other countries according to their COVID-19 situation through the traffic light system, which is currently applied by several other European countries.
The system is used to determine the quarantine measures and other travel restrictions travellers fall subject to by categorising countries in three colours – green, orange and red, based on the number of COVID-19 cases in the previous two weeks before the update of the measures.
“Regarding countries that are outside the European area [EU and Schengen zone countries], we will work on lists and colours. There will be the green countries, orange countries and red countries,” French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said to Europe 1 on May 8.
The Minister did not clarify what rules would apply to each country, yet he noted that “only five or six green countries at the moment.” The chances are high that these countries are among the ones in the EU Council’s list of epidemiologically safe third countries. Since May 6, the following countries are on this list: Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Rwanda, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, as well as China (including Hong Kong and Macao).
Yet, in spite of its plan to reopen for tourism from third countries, the French government has once again shown its determination to prevent COVID-19 cases from being imported from other countries, in particular those with COVID-19 mutations.
On May 7, the government expanded the list of countries for arrivals from which stringent entry restrictions apply by adding Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and United Arab Emirates. Previously, since April 24, in the list have been Brazil, Argentina, Chile and South Africa.
A favourite summer destination in particular for Europeans living in the landlocked Member States – Greece, which heavily depends on the tourism sector, has been working since the beginning of the year to reopen its borders in time for summer.
“We will open on May 14, and we will open safely, despite the danger,” Greece’s Tourism Minister Harry Theocharis said in the Greek Parliament on April 6, after in early March the government unfolded its plan for the reopening of the tourism sector.
Before May 14, the country reopened its borders to several third countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Serbia, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates.
In late April, arrivals from more third countries were allowed to enter Greece without having to follow quarantine restrictions include Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia, Rwanda, Singapore, and Thailand.
In order to prepare in time for the summer season, the country has also speeded up vaccinations for workers in several industries, including tourism.
For over a month now, Spanish authorities have been warning of their plans to permit entry for British tourists, which make up the largest share of foreign tourists during the summer season in Spain, in order to help revive the tourism sector in the country.
On May 24, Monday, a new decree approved by the Spanish government took effect, permitting Britons to enter the country without the need of isolating or testing for COVID-19.
In addition, the outsourcing service provider in charge of receiving Spain visa applications, BLS, has announced the reopening of Spanish visa application centres in several countries of the world. The reopening of visa centres means that the reopening of borders for arrivals from these countries could happen in the near future.
Spanish borders are currently open for arrivals from other third countries – Australia, Israel, Rwanda, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore, China, and Thailand.
Whereas, starting from June 7, all vaccinated travellers with one of the vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) can fly to Spain from any country.
Iceland is that one Schengen Area country that has opened the borders the earliest for vaccinated travellers worldwide while at the same time keeping low the rates of COVID-19 new cases.
On April 6, Iceland started permitting entry for vaccinated travellers from anywhere in the world who have received one of the vaccines approved by the EMA. The authorities, at the same time, decided to permit entry for those who had recently recovered from the Coronavirus and could prove it.
Yet, the country took all the necessary measures not to become a transit point to the rest of the Schengen Area for foreign travellers.
At the same time, it kept tough restrictions in place, obliging to isolate in government facilities all arrivals from countries with high rates of Coronavirus cases, where a 14-day Coronavirus case notification rate surpasses 500 per 100,000.
However, SchengenVisaInfo.com announced on May 24 that Iceland would remove the entry ban and quarantine requirement for travellers from high-risk countries who have been vaccinated or recovered from the Coronavirus recently.
The latter decision has been taken at a time when the government of Iceland intends to vaccinate at least 60 per cent of its total population by June.
Germany remains among the EU countries with the slowest progress towards the reopening of the travel and tourism sector for foreign travellers.
One of the few steps that the German government has taken in this regard is to allow vaccinated travellers, as well as those who have fully recovered from the COVID-19, to skip testing and quarantine requirements when entering the country.
The rule, however, applies only to travellers who so far have been permitted to enter the country, under entry ban exemptions, or who are travellers from one of the other EU/Schengen Area countries with a low COVID-19 incidence and no virus mutations.
And, while Spain has decided to reopen its borders for arrivals from the UK completely restriction-free, Germany has added the UK to the list of high-risk countries where COVID-19 mutations have widely spread on May 23. The decision means that an entry ban is now imposed on travel and transport from the UK.
On May 16, Italy abolished an entry ban on vaccinated travellers from the Schengen Area and European Union Member States as well as from the United Kingdom and Israel. Yet, Italy kept in place the five-day quarantine requirement and testing against COVID-19 in place for travellers from these countries.
The decision followed a warning of the Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who said that Italy would put into use its national green pass without waiting for the EU COVID-19 travel certificate.
Travellers from the United States and other non-European countries that are considered low risk, like Japan, Canada, Australia and Singapore, can also enter the country for non-essential purposes, but they still need both a Coronavirus test and a ten-day quarantine.
However, the country has announced its plans to permit travellers from the United States, Canada, and Japan to enter without being subject to any entry restrictions if they are fully vaccinated against the virus.
Just like some other European countries, like Spain and Greece, Italy’s economy also widely depends on international tourism, which pre-pandemic, in particular during the summer season, reached its peaks.
Data shows that the country has lost a total of €120.6 billion due to the Coronavirus restrictions on travel and tourism, which then caused a 51 per cent decrease in the contribution of the industry to Italy’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020.
Portugal opened its borders for tourists from the other EU Member States, as well as the four non-EU Schengen area countries – Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland on May 17. Travellers from the former EU member, the United Kingdom, were also permitted to enter.
The authorities put in place an obligation to test for COVID-19 within 72 hours before arrival in Portugal for all travellers from these countries.
The non-EU Schengen Area country, Switzerland, is also reopening its borders through phases. It is expected that the country will decide on May 26, Wednesday, on a proposal of the Swiss Federal Council, which foresees permitting quarantine-free entry for travellers who are vaccinated against COVID-19.
At the end of April, Switzerland announced it was working on the development of a standardised counterfeit-proof and internationally recognised COVID-19 certificate. The authorities claimed at the time that the certificate will be available in time for summer and would serve to all persons vaccinated against the virus, as well as those who have recently recovered from the virus. Those who do not fit in the two categories previously mentioned would be able to enter by getting tested for COVID-19.
At the time, the authorities had noted that the Swiss certificate would be as flexible as possible in order that when further details are made known on the EU’s digital green certificate, it could be adjusted to meet the latter.
Denmark is also gradually reopening its borders through phases. On May 1, the Danish government started the second phase of its reopening plan by allowing fully vaccinated travellers and children under 18 who are permanent residents in Denmark to travel to countries on the orange list.
Phase three of the gradual reopening of travel activities to and from Denmark, which started on May 14, saw the country relax its restrictions for countries and regions placed on the yellow list by exempting from the obligation of quarantine travellers coming from these parts of Europe.
The incidence limit for opening and closing the yellow and orange countries and areas in the EU and Schengen members has also been increased from 20/30 as it was before to 50/60 per every 100,000 residents in a period of seven days.
For now, arrivals to Denmark from an area in the EU/Schengen, placed in the orange list, are permitted to enter the country for non-essential purposes. Yet, they remain subject to self-isolation and testing obligation.
Exempt from these requirements are all those who are permitted to enter that can prove they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or have recovered from the virus.