Each member state is approaching the end of its coronavirus lockdown and border closures a bit differently. The Media looks at how some European countries are facing the decision to reopen their borders.
Some border crossings with neighbors Austria, Switzerland, and France began to open on May 16 under tightly controlled conditions, with June 15 set as the date to fully relax borders and restrictions on inter-EU travel.
Germany also lifted its strict border controls with Luxembourg on the same day. A similar deal with Denmark has been reached, although a date has not yet been announced.
An official government proposal to reopen the borders by June 15, called the “Criteria for the Enabling of Intra-European Tourism” is set to be decided upon on Wednesday.
Under the proposal, Germany’s general travel warning will be replaced by individual travel advice, which highlights the separate risks for each individual country.
“The revitalization of tourism is important both for travelers and the German travel industry, as well as for the economic stability of the respective target countries,” the proposal read.
Vienna also gave June 15 as the official date for reopening the country’s inter-EU borders — but it reopened two crossings into Hungary on May 13 due to the difficulties faced by individuals who live on one side of the border but work on the other.
Austria also opened its border to some traffic from Germany on May 15. Austrian alpine tourism relies heavily on German visitors, as its mountain resorts are very popular with their neighbors.
Indeed, large groups of people returning to Germany from Austrian ski destinations were behind the first surge of the coronavirus pandemic in Germany. Vienna expects to have similar agreements with Switzerland and its other eastern neighbors soon.
Authorities have said, however, that some random health spot checks will be performed on foreigners entering the country, although fewer than are being done now.
Arrivals in France from the Schengen open-border zone, which includes Switzerland, will be exempt from the quarantine. France will still keep its borders mostly shut until June 15, except to people who need to travel in and out frequently for work.
France had entered into an agreement with the UK to allow passage back and forth without the country’s mandatory 14-day quarantine, seen as an essential economic measure due to the flow of delivery vehicles that passes between the two countries.
But Downing Street on May 15 walked back on the plan, saying it would no longer exempt French arrivals from quarantine.
While the country where Europe’s outbreak first took serious hold has never technically ordered its borders closed, the extreme measures put in place at airports to stop the spread of the virus and border closures ordered by its neighbors have pretty much cut it off to international travel.
Starting on June 3, citizens of EU countries will once again be allowed to travel to Italy. Curbs on inter-regional travel within Italy will also be lifted in early June.
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio on Tuesday also hailed calls for a joint re-launch of European tourism in mid-June, referring to the day that borders open again as being a new “D-Day.”
“Let’s work together so that on June 15 Europe can start anew. June 15 is a little bit like European D-Day for tourism,” Di Maio said in a television interview, referring to Germany’s draft proposal to lift travel bans.
“Germany is looking at a deadline of June 15 to reopen. We are working with Austria and we will work with other European countries,” he said.
Tourism is a major element of the Italian economy. Under normal circumstances, it is the fifth-most visited country in the world. Tourism accounts for 10% of GDP and nearly 5% of employment.
Also heavily reliant on foreign tourism, Spain has reopened its borders but imposed a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine regulation on anyone who arrives in the country.
However, Spain announced that it will lift the mandatory 14-day quarantine for visitors from July, with its foreign minister issuing an enthusiastic tweet to welcome foreign tourists.
“The worst is behind us,” Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya tweeted, with emojis of a bikini, sunglasses and a suitcase.
“In July we will gradually open Spain to international tourists, lift the quarantine, ensure the highest standards of health safety. We look forward 2 welcoming you!” she wrote.
Spain also lifted restrictions in some of its biggest cities on Monday, with restaurants and bars opening up in Barcelona and the capital Madrid.
Spain normally draws over 80 million tourists per year, with travel accounting for over 12% of the country’s gross domestic product.
Another top tourist destination, Portugal’s tourism board has said that the country’s beaches and hotels will be ready to welcome tourists by mid-June. However, there is still concern about how to check that new arrivals have been tested for the coronavirus, a measure the government wants to see implemented, and how to control whether social distancing rules are maintained on beaches.
A complete cancellation of the tourist season this year could cause the Portuguese economy to contract by up to 6%.
Although not an EU member state, Norway is a member of the European Economic Area and has been moving in tandem with Europe on several facets of the bloc’s pandemic response.
As of May 13, travelers from EU nations (including the UK) as well as Iceland and Liechtenstein have been allowed to enter Norway for work or if they have family members living in the country. Oslo’s decision is less related to tourism and more focused on allowing seasonal workers to enter Norway.
As other countries roll back their border controls, Warsaw announced that its strict closures will remain in place until June 12. However, diplomats, foreigners with Polish residency, and professional truck drivers were given permission to pass through specific checkpoints earlier this month.
Like many EU member states, Poland has not given an indication of when international travel from beyond Europe might return to any semblance of pre-pandemic regularity.
While also not an EU member, Iceland is in the Schengen area of visa-free travel and is popular with tourists.
The government has announced that, like many of its European counterparts, it will begin easing restrictions on foreign travel on June 15. However, new arrivals will have to choose whether to submit to an immediate coronavirus test upon arrival or to complete a 14-day quarantine wherever they are staying.
People arriving for certain work purposes, such as scientists, may be granted waivers from these requirements.
Tourists from neighboring Slovenia were able to cross into Croatia earlier this month, after the negotiation of a deal that sees Slovenian tourists exempt from a mandatory 14-day quarantine after returning from abroad if they were coming from Croatia.
Croatian Health Minister Gari Cappelli said in an interview with state broadcaster HRT that an easing of restrictions between the two borders could take place “because our epidemiological situations are similar.”
German tourists, who frequent Croatia’s many islands in the Adriatic Sea, will be allowed to visit Croatia no later than June 15, Cappelli said, adding that he expects similar deals will be struck with other EU nations soon.
Greece has said it aims to open its borders to European tourists by June 15, along with several other EU countries. However, an official date and has not been formally confirmed.
Greece has had one of the lowest rates of infection and fatalities due to the pandemic in Europe as the result of an early and extremely strict lockdown — in some cases, residents were not even allowed to go grocery shopping, and were brought supplies instead. As such, the country is emerging perhaps healthier from the crisis than its neighbors. However, the government is still wary to open its borders in order to keep it that way.
Greece also opened cafes to outdoor service this week – marking one of its first steps to lift lockdown measures.
Despite new infections still being reported, Slovenia’s government declared an end to the COVID-19 epidemic in the country and reopened its borders for EU travelers on May 15.
EU residents crossing into Slovenia from Hungary, Italy and Austria were also exempted from a mandatory seven-day quarantine. Most non-EU residents will still have to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine, however. Anyone found to be exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms will be turned away at the border under the new regulations.
Restrictions on the country’s tourism branch also started to roll back this month, although initially only for small hotels and other smaller businesses.