Coronavirus around Europe: Will foreign travel be possible this summer?

Coronavirus around Europe: Will foreign travel be possible this summer?
AFP
Europe is slowly reopening after weeks of lockdown and tight restrictions on movement. Our journalists and contributors around Europe look at the possibility of foreign travel this summer and report on the latest developments around borders reopening.

'Leaving Norway would be taking a risk,' Stine G Bergo, Oslo, Norway

Norwegians like to say that we are born with skis on our feet. And it’s true that we enjoy winter. But not as much as we enjoy getting as far away from it as possible.

At this time of year, many Norwegians are usually booking trips to countries like Spain, Greece and Italy – places that guarantee hot, sunny days, white beaches and salty, blue seas.

Right now, Norwegians are itching to click “reserve”.

Some are even considering “exchanging” a holiday abroad for 10 days in quarantine when they get back home, a Norwegian travel insurance company told the state channel NRK this week.

If only things were that easy. Even though the EU Commission plans to open the borders of Europe for tourism, travel companies are still following the Norwegian department of foreign affairs’ advice: Don’t travel abroad unless it is absolutely necessary.

The Prime minister, Erna Solberg, wants Norwegians to plan for staycations.

“We don’t need to import contagion when we have the situation under control,” she said this week.

The exception to the rule are people from countries within European Economic Area (EEA) who own property in Norway. For example, if you’re a German wanting to visit your mountain cabin, you may do so – provided you quarantine for 10 days when you get there.

Anyone with their main residence in Norway who wants to visit family abroad will be able to do so, if the rules in their home countries allow.

But while there is no official ban on going abroad from the government’s side, the Norwegian foreign department warns that it is getting harder and harder to come back. So leaving the country would be taking a risk, hoping that the coronavirus does not make a huge comeback in the meantime.

So, what are people living in Norway planning on doing this summer?

Some are arguing that we should be able to travel to countries with similar coronavirus situations, such as Denmark, Finland and Germany. But most seem determined to become tourists in their own country.

Sales of boats and camper vans have exploded. Forget sunny beaches, this year we’re filling social media with pictures of mountains, lakes and more mountains.

However, local authorities are fearing that too many eager staycationers will flock to the same places. So this year, Norwegians should probably try to – as much as we can – do the thing we don’t do best: Stay home.

AFP

'Summer houses in Denmark are up for grabs because most are normally booked by Germans,' Emma Firth, Copenhagen, Denmark

As the weather warms up in Denmark, and restrictions continue to ease after lockdown, people’s attention has started to turn towards the summer holidays.

In Denmark, many people take at least three weeks off in July. Many offices close down, schools are on their summer break and even childcare is partially closed. Copenhagen becomes very quiet, except for the seasonal tourists. So what will happen this year?

Denmark's borders have been closed since the 14th March but the government has said it will make a decision about how to reopen them by the 1st June.

Germany announced this week that it’s ready and waiting to reopen its border with Denmark but the Danish government want to first collaborate with other Nordic counties before making a decision.

In the meantime, summer houses in Denmark are up for grabs, as three out of four Danish summer houses are usually booked by Germans.

And it seems this will be the way most people in Denmark spend their summer holiday. My neighbours have already booked theirs and were encouraging us to do the same.

As Denmark is made up of so many islands, you are spoilt for choice with coastlines and if ferry trips are involved, it can feel like you’re going away. It is also possible to cross the bridge to Sweden but on returning you are strongly advised to spend 14 days in quarantine.

For those wanting to visit their home country, that is sadly still off the cards, until further announcements on the border reopening are made. Butspouses, live-in partners, parents and children of a Danish resident or citizen can come into Denmark to visit – if their home country allows it. And it’s always worth contacting your embassy for advice if you have a special reason to travel.

So it may not be the summer many had planned for, but there are options to travel across Denmark and Sweden and take a break, which is no doubt what many people are ready for.

AFP

'Given the economic fallout of Italy's lockdown many will struggle to afford a summer break,' Clare Speak, Bari, Italy

It's safe to say there's a lot of confusion about travel restrictions in Italy right now, as everyone tries to keep up with all the changes being announced.

As it stands, we currently can't leave our own towns unless for one of a handful of government-approved reasons. We'll be able to travel around our regions from May 18th, but travel to other regions won't be allowed until early June, and we don't know what the conditions will be. with so muc uncertainty remaining about international travel, it looks like we'll be having more staycations this summer.

The government warned Italian residents to expect to take our summer holidays in Italy this year. Not exactly a horrible prospect. Although for those of us with family abroad, the travel restrictions are still painful.

On the positive side, a lot of people here are quietly looking forward to a once-in-a-lifetime chance to enjoy Italy's sights and beaches minus the usual oppressive crowds. Italians take a lot of trips within their own country anyway, and hopefully, more domestic tourism this year will limit the massive losses suffered by the travel industry.

The economic fallout from the shutdown however means a lot of people will struggle to afford their summer break – seen as absolutely essential in Italy, both for your health, and for the economy. In attempt to address this, the government has announced a “holiday bonus” meaning some families could claim €500 towards the cost of a holiday, while Sicily is planning to subsidise holidays on the island.

For now, planning holidays in your home region seems like the only sensible thing to do for many people. While restrictions are now being slowly lifted under “phase two”, we're all well aware that they could just as easily be reinstated if infections rise again.

One thing's for sure: any holidays we do take will look very different this year with social distancing measures in place. We're not sure what crowd control on beaches will look like yet, but at least we'll no longer be fighting for enough space to put a towel down.

This combination of pictures created on May 13, 2020 shows a general view of the Barceloneta beach in Barcelona, overcrowded on August 21, 2017 (L) and empty on May 13, 2020 during the national lockdown. AFP

'The scenes on one Iberia Express flight from Madrid to Gran Canaria this week did nothing to encourage travellers to hop on a flight again,' Graham Keeley, Barcelona, Spain

After over two months shut up indoors, some people are beginning to think about the unthinkable – summer holidays.

Starting today – 15 May – Spain imposed a two-week quarantine on international visitors in an effort to contain coronavirus.

There is every chance this will be extended beyond the current state of emergency which expires on 24thMay.

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel for anyone with wanderlust.

The European Union has indicated it would be keen start lifting travel restrictions from the middle of June but the Spanish government has suggested controls may remain in force for longer.

Howevere, the scenes on one Iberia Express flight from Madrid to Gran Canaria this week did nothing to encourage travellers to hop on a flight again.

Passengers were packed in next to each in apparent contravention of lockdown restrictions and the police are investigating the airline. Iberia denies any wrongdoing.

Sun, sand and safety will be the watchwords this summer here with plans to segregate people in beaches and in hotels in resorts across Spain.

Right now, the mood seems to be suck it and see.

With things changing so quickly, the situation in July and August may look a lot more hopeful than it does now.

However the scenes on the Iberia flight did nothing to encourage me to travel – and I have flights booked to Scotland this summer.

It presents the dilemma of whether a summer holiday is worth the risk, not to mention the expense.

I have seen people already meeting friends on the beach near us and it does not augur well for the summer when everyone heads for the waves.

The tourism sector, which represents 14.3% of Spain's GDP, has all but written off the international market.

The Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands, which have both shown much lower infection rates than the mainland, are still hopeful that north European tourists may be allowed to come.

The idea is that some 'green zones' of Europe with low infection rates may be opened up for travel.

However, it is all talk right now.

More likely, seems the prospect that Spaniards may travel within their own country.

Perhaps instead of heading for Paris, London or elsewhere, they may discover the jewels of Spain they had missed.

'For people who want to cross into France June 15th is the key date,' Emma Pearson, Paris, France

Newspapers on both sides of the Channel are full of talk of summer holidays this week as countries around Europe contemplate reopening their borders or relaxing travel restrictions.

But for many international residents travel is so much more than just a holiday – over the past few weeks we've been contacted by families who are stuck in different countries, people unable to travel to see sick relatives, frantic business travellers and many people whose income depends on tourism.
 
And they are all asking the same thing – when can I travel to France again?
 
Much as I would love to be able to answer this question (almost as much as I would like to see my own partner again, who has been stuck outside France since the lockdown began) there is little certainty at present.
 
The one thing that does seem clear is that the scenario is set to be very different for travellers from inside Europe and those travelling from the US and Australia.
 
AFP
 
Travel into France at present remains heavily restricted – essential journeys only and everyone needs an international travel permit – and this has not changed as France moves into phase 1 of lifting its lockdown.
 
Even within France itself, travelling more than 100km from your home requires an essential reason and a certificate.
 
There was widespread rejoicing this week when Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said that summer holidays in France will be possible this year, but he was talking about people already in France being able to travel to another part of France.
 
While a break in one of France's many stunning beach, lake or mountain regions is certainly not to be sniffed at after eight weeks of seeing little more than the inside of an apartment or the supermarket, this doesn't help people who need to cross borders.
 
For them June 15th is the next key date, when the issue of the French borders will be revised, but there is no guarantee that anything will be lifted at this stage, despite the EU's desire for a phased reopening of the borders for travel within Europe this summer.
 
The EU's plan, while it strikes a hopeful note, has no timescale and it is entirely up to individual countries when and how they reopen their borders/lift travel restrictions.
 
And for travellers from outside Europe there is even less certainty – the ban on travel from outside the EU and Schengen zone remains in place “until further notice” says France's Interior Minister and even when travel restrictions are lifted there are plans for a compulsory 14-day quarantine for arrivals from outside Europe.
 
American visitors normally play a massive part in France's summer tourism season, but that looks increasingly unlikely this year – a great loss both for them and for France's devastated tourist businesses.
 
 
'Sweden's Foreign Ministry extended its recommendation to avoid non-essential overseas trips until July 15th – a deadline that may very well be extended further,' Anne Grietje Franssen, Gothenburg, Sweden
 
How much we’re all longing to get away. Or not even that; just to finally be reunited with our relatives and friends in our home countries would already be wonderful in and of itself. It is, I think, one of the main concerns for many people living abroad these days, among a slew of concerns over money, work, studies, health and the future at large.

Just wait for the summer, I thought, when my plans to take the train from my Swedish west-coast home to my partner in Switzerland and, subsequently, to my family in the Netherlands last March were interrupted by closed borders. In summer our lives will be normal again, I tried to convince myself. And who could have known otherwise? No one has had a dress-rehearsal for this pandemic, after all.

This fact is underlined by the way national authorities scramble to keep up with the latest developments and are devising policies accordingly. On Wednesday, the Swedish government announced that they would somewhat ease domestic travel restrictions, now allowing for short journeys as long as a list of conditions is met. The trip should, for example, not exceed the distance of two hours by car from where you live, large gatherings should be avoided at all costs and following the informal social distancing code is as crucial as ever – travelling or not.

These latest recommendations contain the promise for some people living in Sweden that they will be able to spend their holidays at their summer houses, which, especially for those living in cities, must feel like a considerable improvement from being stuck in a cramped apartment.

Yet these updated guidelines are of little consolation to all of us who long to be near the family members who happen to live beyond this two-hour domestic drive. Despite Brussel’s recent urge to its EU member states to start lifting (international) travel restrictions, expats and other people living in Sweden have to come to terms with the fact that non-essential, overseas trips will – in all likelihood – be unfeasible in summer.

Because simultaneously with the slight easing of domestic travel restrictions, Sweden's Foreign Ministry extended its recommendation to avoid non-essential overseas trips until July 15th – a deadline that may very well be extended further.

Still, an Italian friend of mine is taking her chances. She can no longer stay here, she feels, with her family being in lockdown in Napoli. She’s trying to figure out a way to fly to Rome and, with a document stating that she has good reason to visit her family, travel on to her hometown. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for her safe arrival, but neither of us will be surprised if she gets stuck somewhere along the way.

I now dream of autumn. September, I keep thinking. Or October. We’ll be able to see – even embrace – our loved ones in October, right?

'Many in Switzerland say they may have no choice other than to stay put until international travel becomes easier,' Helena Bachmann, Lake Geneva, Switzerland
 
We have been dreaming about this moment for many weeks: what will we do, and where will we go, when Switzerland’s borders re-open on June 15th?
 
That’s a very pertinent question because, according to tourism officials, about 55 percent of Switzerland’s population spend their vacation abroad each year, mainly somewhere in Europe.
 
All the internationals I personally know or have come in contact with lately said that they are longing to go back to their countries, hug their families, and just spend some time with their loved ones after weeks of enforced separation.
 
But, despite the easing of travel restrictions, this plan doesn’t appear to be as simple as it sounds.
 
Figuring out where to go this summer once Swiss borders with France, Austria and Germany re-open is pretty much still up in the air — no pun intended.
 
And it is not only because regional airlines like EasyJet have suspended many flights and there is no word yet when they will resume their regular operations to European destinations.
 
Many are also waiting to see how the health situation evolves in Switzerland and their home countries before booking any trips, while others haven’t figured out the logistics of getting from point A to point B in this new, post-Covid-19 Europe.
 
My friend, British expat Anna, for instance, usually drives from Geneva to her home in Dover, but she fears that non-essential traffic through the Eurotunnel may be restricted, so she has not made any firm plans.
 
“Like many other people in the same situation, I am waiting to see what happens,” she said.
 
Swiss officials are encouraging the population to spend their holidays in Switzerland this year, to boost the country’s tourism sector, which has suffered huge losses during the lockdown.
 
But while none of the expatriates I talked with is planning to spend their vacation traveling through Switzerland, many say they may have no choice other than to stay put until international travel becomes easier. Whether or not this will happen soon is hard to predict.
 
These people are dreaming globally but, come summer, many of them may end up being stuck locally.

'For many international residents from far-flung places such as myself, the travel situation remains up in the air.' Rachel Stern, Berlin, Germany

Germans love to travel abroad, with 50 million out of the country’s 83 million venturing beyond Germany’s borders every year, according to the Federal Foreign Office. Many have therefore been eagerly waiting June 15th, when the country aims to open up its land borders with all of its neighbouring countries.

As of Saturday, May 16th, the border with Luxembourg was opened – also a symbolic move. The 1990 Schengen Agreement, named after the Luxembourg town on the German and French borders where it was signed, is the basis for passport-free travel between most EU member states.

The borders to Belgium and the Netherlands are also mostly already open, sans a few small spot checks.

Yet for many international residents from far-flung places such as myself, the travel situation remains up in the air. I reluctantly chose to cancel, rather than postpone, a trip to visit my family in California, as it remains unclear not only when travel between the US and Germany will be possible, but when it will be safe to do so.

Germany still has a ban on travellers from many non-EU countries, including the US, except for essential workers. This has led to some admirable attempts to sneak in, such as a lovestruck 20-year-old American who donned a cleaner costume to try to visit his girlfriend in Frankfurt.

But at least for countries close by, the process of travel is becoming easier. Germany announced Friday that its states will lift their 14-day quarantine requirement for those coming (or travellers returning) from neighbouring country.

But travel to other popular destinations for Germans – such as Spain, which is enforcing a 14-day quarantine for new arrivals – could still be tricky.

In the meantime, the German media is filled with articles about the many domestic tourist possibilities hiking in the Bavarian Alps, sunbathing at the Baltic Sea or dining at Hamburg’s Harbour.

As tourism infrastructure in all states will open up by the end of May, Germans will at least have a way to follow their Wanderlust in their own country.


Member comments

Become a Member to leave a comment.Or login here.