Coronavirus Outbreak: Should You Cancel a Trip to Europe?

[Editor’s note: This is an updated version of an earlier article that originally ran on March 4.]

COVID-19 cases in Europe continue to stabilize but are not yet disappearing. Until the pandemic is over, keep asking yourself: Yes, you CAN travel, but SHOULD you? As of July 1, the EU opened to travelers beyond its borders, but the U.S. is not yet one of the countries allowed to visit.

The world’s case count was at one million on April 2, two million on April 15, three million on April 27, four million on May 8, five million on May 20, six million on May 29, seven million on June 7, eight million on June 15, nine million on June 22, 10 million on June 28, 11 million on July 3, and 12 million on July 8.

As of July 10, the world has 12,456,906 confirmed cases, 558,717 deaths, and 7,260,840 people recovered. The highest cases numbers are in the U.S. (3,236,047 cases, 135,978 deaths), Brazil (1,762,263 cases, 69,316 deaths), India (804,861 cases, 21,776 deaths), and Russia (713,936 cases, 11,017 deaths), followed by Peru, Chile, Spain, the U.K., Mexico, and Iran.

Read up on the coronavirus situation generally, including how to prevent the further spread of COVID-19, at The Latest: Should You Change Your Travel Plans Due to the Coronavirus? If you’re trying to decide when it’s the right time to travel again, check out Will It Be Safe to Travel When This Is All Over? Will We Even Know?

Here’s what you need to know specifically about Europe.

The Latest

Confusion continues about who can travel where, which countries are considered “safe” and by whom, as well as whether it’s ethical to travel at all. Additional governments are issuing “green lists” of countries with travel allowed from and/or to them, but there are often major differences between the lists. Some lists are based on eligibility on country of residence, others on citizenship, and others based on where travel originated.

On July 3, the U.K. released a first version of their list of countries and territories allowed into the U.K. without mandatory 14-day quarantine, effective July 10. That list had 59 entries, in addition to the 14 British Overseas Territories. On July 8, the list was updated to 76 countries and now incorporates the 14 overseas territories. The U.K.’s list applies to passengers arriving in England (not the broader U.K.) from any of the 76 destinations, unless, in the preceding 14 days, they have stopped in a country or territory not on the list. That includes if their plane stops en route to England and new passengers get on.

Wales’ list and Scotland’s list are similar—though not identical—to England’s and were updated July 9. On July 10, Northern Ireland announced it will use the same list as England. Travelers planning to visit more than one country in the U.K will need to study each list with care and check for current updates. Ireland, a member of the EU but having an open border with Northern Ireland, is said to soon release a list of countries exempt from its quarantine.

There are few similarities between the U.K.’s lists and the EU’s list of 14 countries eligible to enter Europe as of July 1. Only five countries are on both lists: Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Serbia, and South Korea. Countries on the EU’s list not on the U.K.’s are: Algeria, Canada, Georgia, Montenegro. Morocco, Rwanda, Thailand, Tunisia, and Uruguay. As well, the U.K.’s list does not include all of the E.U.’s 28 member states; missing are Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Sweden. U.K. nationals are allowed entry into Europe because the U.K. is, for now, still a member of the E.U.

There have not yet been any official changes to the EU’s list of 14 countries eligible to enter Europe as of July 1, although changes are anticipated. EU member states are not required to comply, though it might result in internal borders within the EU and/or Schengen area being partially or fully closed.

However, on July 9 Italy created a list of 13 countries with COVID rates too high for entry. Al Jazeera reports that anyone who has been in or traveled through the following countries in the most recent 14 days is not allowed into Italy: Armenia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brazil, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile, Dominican Republic, Kuwait, North Macedonia, Moldova, Oman, Panama, and Peru.

Croatia opened its borders to countries beyond the EU’s green-lit list of 14, including to the United States. Croatia is a member of the EU but is not a part of the Schengen zone. A press release on the Croatia Tourism Board’s website indicates that U.S. nationals may enter Croatia if they have proof of booked accommodation. A form on EnterCroatia.mup.hr needs to be filled out in advance of arrival, though it seems COVID testing is not required unless someone shows symptoms. Masks are required in public.

Norway, part of the European Economic Area (EEA) and Schengen zone but not part of the EU, is lifting travel restrictions from 20 countries as of July 15. The Guardian reported July 10 that visitors from EU countries like France and Germany, as well as parts of Sweden, will be allowed into Norway without mandatory quarantine. On July 10, Norway’s press release said it applies to “people from, among others, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom” but did not give the full list of 20 countries.

On July 9, Greece warned that renewed restrictions may be announced on July 13, including related to travel, to “protect the majority from the frivolous few.” Bulgaria has reclosed bars and is again not allowing fans into stadiums after a new record of 240 daily cases was reached. Unrest continues in Serbia; the BBC reports concerns over unnecessary authoritarianism and peaceful protests in Belgrade, brutal police violence, as well as far-right nationalists storming the National Assembly.

Before planning travel, travelers should check their home country’s travel warnings (the State Department and CDC still recommend against all international travel) and rules about quarantine both on arrival and when returning home. The U.S. “travel ban” against Europe is still in place, however, on June 2, Donald Trump hinted it could be lifted for European nations with low case numbers.

Europe Overall

COVID-19 was initially reported in Europe almost a month after the first cases were confirmed in China, however, there’s new evidence that France had a case in late December 2019 and wastewater studies in Italy show COVID was present in December. On March 2, 2020, the President of the EU raised the risk level for coronavirus from moderate to high.

Restricted travel started lifting as of May 15.

June 15 marked the date most European countries opened to visitors from within Europe, often, but not always, for all EU and Schengen countries and sometimes including the U.K. Generally within the EU, health certificates, testing, and quarantine are not required for EU passport holders, but countries can differ in their requirements.

As of July 1, the EU allows residents of 14 non-EU countries into Europe: Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia, and Uruguay. China will be the 15th country on the list if it changes its rules to allow EU residents to enter.

Many government leaders are discussing the principle of reciprocity in their travel announcements, saying that if one country imposes rules on them, they will respond with the same type of rule for that country. This means entry rules can change quickly.

The EU’s new website, Re-open EU, explains each country’s COVID rules, transportation availability and the types of tourist infrastructure that’s open. Originally geared to travelers originating from within the EU, it’s likely to expand as the EU opens further. Euronews lists details by country as does Al Jazeera

As of July 10, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reports 1,572, 854  COVID-19 cases and 179,018  deaths in the EU/EEA, the U.K., Monaco, San Marino, and Switzerland. All EU/EEA countries and the U.K. are affected.

The ECDC posts regular COVID-19 updates on the situation in the European Union, the European Economic Area (EEA), and the United Kingdom. They cover the countries commonly considered as “Europe,” between Iceland and the U.K. in the west and Estonia, Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria in the east. Technically, this means the ECDC does include Andorra, Cyprus, Malta, Monaco, San Marino, and Switzerland, but does not include countries like Albania, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia, and Russia. Some, but not all, of the ECDC’s reporting does include these latter countries. A listing of COVID-19 cases by country is on the ECDC’s Situation Update page.

Here’s the latest in some of Europe’s most popular tourist countries.

Italy

Italy was once the European country most affected by COVID-19. The U.S., Brazil, India, Russia, Peru, Chile, Spain, the U.K., Mexico, and Iran all now have higher numbers of cases than Italy. As of July 9, Italy has 242,363 cases and 34,926 deaths.

Italy’s first two cases were reported on January 30 and the first death was February 22. However, on June 19, it was reported that a study of wastewater in northern Italy showed that COVID-19 was in both Milan and Turin on December 18. On March 20, the number of COVID-19 deaths in Italy reached 3,405, exceeding the number then reported in China.

Italy opened for both domestic travel and travel from EU and Schengen countries on June 3. Despite the EU’s decision to allow entry to residents of 14 non-EU countries deemed to have comparable epidemiological situations as Europe, the CBC reported that Italy will continue with mandatory 14-day quarantine for visitors from those countries. On July 9, Italy announced a list of 13 countries barred from entry because of their high COVID rates. Anyone who has been in (including traveling through) these 13 countries in the past 14 days is not allowed into Italy: Armenia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brazil, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile, Dominican Republic, Kuwait, North Macedonia, Moldova, Oman, Panama, and Peru.

Most of Italy is open, including Rome’s Colosseum and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Sicily is offering subsidies to attract travelers. There’s hope for keeping COVID under control in the future, with a July 2 announcement that the World Alpine Championships should take place as scheduled in Cortina d’Ampezzo in February 2021.

The country-wide lockdown for Italy’s 60 million residents began on March 9 and ended on May 4. Under the full lockdown, Italians could leave their homes only with a certificate stating a valid reason (to buy groceries, visit the doctor, or do solitary exercise near their homes). Fines up to 3,000 euros or three months of jail time were consequences of non-compliance.

There are many factors that are likely contributing to Italy’s high numbers and why the significant outbreak began there, as described in this Wired story. For example, Italy has been testing a large proportion of citizens and the younger generation visits often with Italy’s seniors, a prime way for COVID-19 to spread. As Pharmaceutical Technology reports, of all countries in Europe, Italy has the highest number of flights to China (where the first cases of COVID-19 were seen), with the number recently tripling. Italy also has the oldest population not only in Europe but in the world, which means more people susceptible to getting sick and at greater risk of complications and death.

France

The first COVID-19 cases in Europe were reported in France, on January 24, 2020, and the first death was February 15. It was Europe’s first COVID-19-related death. However, on May 3, French doctors published a study that shows that a Paris patient likely had COVID-19 in late December. The patient had not been to China at all nor traveled since August 2019.

As of July 9, France has 170,094 cases of COVID-19 and 29,979 deaths. On July 2, France’s health minister said 200 new COVID-19 clusters were under control, and that France continues to prepare for the likely second wave of infection. France’s public health agency, Santé Publique, provides regular coronavirus updates in French. France’s Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs provides advice for visitors to France including about who is currently eligible to enter France.

The Eiffel Tower reopened earlier than expected, on June 25. As of July 1 visitors can use elevators again and as of July 9, the terrace reopened for drinks and dancing. Elevator tickets are only available online, tickets with stairs-only access are available online and onsite. Masks are mandatory in public areas in France, including on public transportation. The cap for public gatherings is 10 people.

The French government announced a tourism rescue plan in mid-May. More restrictions were in place for “red zones” than parts of the country deemed to be “green” or “orange” zones. Paris’s rating was changed from red to orange on May 28 and to green on June 15.

Under France’s lockdown, people were allowed to leave their homes only for essential purchases and then needed to carry a document explaining the reason. One hour per day of outdoor exercise was allowed but only within one kilometer of home. Families could take walks together but again only within one kilometer of home. France deployed 100,000 officers to enforce the rules and issue fines if necessary. Six months in prison was the consequence of multiple infractions. Incremental closures were not as effective as needed, and the French president implemented a lockdown similar to that in Italy and Spain on March 17.

Germany

Germany’s coronavirus cases are at 199,257 as of July 10, with 9,126 deaths. Germany’s first case was reported on January 28. Coronavirus information in English is available on the German government’s website. On July 10, the health minister said Germany’s low death rate, in comparison to other European countries, is due to imposing a “very early” lockdown, as reported by The Guardian.

Museums, restaurants, shops and some hotels are open. Face masks are mandatory when taking public transportation and in some public places. Bans on large events like festivals were extended until October.

Germany was the first of Europe’s major soccer leagues to return to play, with only about 100 people allowed in the stands, including emergency workers, sports reporters, and TV crews. A shutdown and physical distancing measures were in place as of March 22.

In early April, German officials accused the United States of “modern piracy” and “Wild West” tactics as all countries scrambled to provide personal protective equipment to their health care workers with the U.S. blocking shipments designated for other countries and instigating price wars. The German foreign minister criticized the “America First” model as helping no one and told Der Spiegel that he hoped the U.S. would rethink its approach to international relationships going forward. In March, news outlets like The Guardian reported that Donald Trump offered the German pharmaceutical company, CureVac, “large sums of money” to provide a vaccine “for the U.S. only.” Germany’s health minister said that if CureVac is able to develop a vaccine, it would be available “for the whole world” and “not for individual countries.”

United Kingdom

The U.K.’s latest coronavirus information and advice is updated daily. As of July 10, the U.K. has 288,133 cases and 44,650 COVID-19 deaths. The U.K.’s first cases were in England and reported on January 31. February 28 saw the first cases in Northern Ireland and Wales. Scotland’s first case was on March 2.

The U.K.’s borders are open, however, as of June 8, there’s a mandatory 14-day quarantine period for some new arrivals. As of July 10, visitors from 76 countries deemed low-risk are allowed entry into England without quarantine (the U.K.’s first list, released July 3, had 59 destinations). As of July 9, Wales and Scotland have similar—though not identical—lists. Northern Ireland announced July 10 that it will use the same list as England. The U.K.’s travel site provides details.

The U.K.’s lockdown restrictions first eased in England. The governments of Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales kept restrictions in place longer than England but started relaxing them as of May 29 and June 1.

The U.K.’s risk level was lowered from level four to level three on June 19; risk level is no longer reported on their website. Though initially excluded from the U.S.-Europe travel ban, both the U.K. and Ireland were included as of March 14. The U.K. implemented a lockdown on March 23 after publishing a Coronavirus Action Plan on March 3. The Guardian reports on a National Health Service briefing that said the coronavirus-related crisis is expected to last until spring 2121 and that 80% of citizens could contract it. The Guardian published an opinion piece on May 1 positing why the country, once a global leader in pandemic preparation, was unable to contain COVID-19.

Spain

In early April, Spain became Europe’s most coronavirus-affected country, though European countries with higher case numbers are now Russia and the U.K. As of July 9, Spain has 300,136 cases and 28,401 deaths (Spain paused official death counts as of June 7 while numbers were rechecked, after data collection methods were changed at the end of May, reports The Guardian). The country’s first COVID-19 case was on February 1 and the first death was reported on March 3. The Guardian explains how the disease escalated in Spain. A new wastewater study shows the virus was present in Spain in mid-January.

Spain’s state of emergency lifted June 21. Travel from all EU and Schengen countries is now allowed, including Portugal. Masks are mandatory on public transportation. Catalonia made wearing masks in public mandatory on July 8, the first region in Spain to do so. The Balearic Islands followed suit on July 10.

Spain’s state of emergency was first declared March 14 and the country had some of the world’s most severe lockdown restrictions. Starting March 17, only Spanish citizens and permanent residents, as well as those from Andorra and Gibraltar, were allowed into the country, with a few exceptions. Lifting of restrictions in Spain’s hardest-hit areas, Barcelona and Madrid, was slower than the rest of the country. After not being allowed to leave their homes for six weeks, as of April 27, Spanish kids were finally allowed out to play, but initially just for an hour per day.  El Pais answered key questions about the lifting of restrictions in English.

Earlier This Spring

The EU set July 1 as the date that the Union’s borders would open to some travelers from outside the EU and Schengen area. A list of 54 countries under consideration was leaked June 25, and the approved list of 14 countries released June 30. The U.S. was not on either list. Residents of the 14 countries (as well as China if it removes restrictions on travel from Europe) are allowed entry to the EU as well as the Schengen-adjacent countries of Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland as of July 1. The 14 countries are Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia, and Uruguay. There are a few exceptions, such as in-transit passengers and long-term E.U. residents. However, the CBC reports that Italy is continuing to require arrivals from the 14 countries to undergo a 14-day quarantine. This puts unimpeded travel within the EU’s borders at risk.

Inclusion on the list was largely based on the 14 countries having similar or better epidemiological situations as the EU, measured as new COVID cases during the previous two weeks per 100,000 in the population. When the draft list of 54 countries was released, the New York Times reported that the EU had 16-20 new cases per 100,000 while the U.S. had 107. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has a map indicating the countries below the threshold. The list will be updated every two weeks.

Protests in Europe took place over five weeks, in solidarity with protests in the U.S. calling for an end to systemic racism and police brutality. The need for justice outweighed the potential risk of COVID exposure, though many countries continue to ban gatherings of groups. Protests in Amsterdam, Berlin, Dublin, Krakow, London, Marseilles, Paris and other cities featured chants and signs stating “Justice Can’t Wait,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “Stop Killing Black People.” The WHO urged protesters to be as safe as possible and to wear masks.

The WHO reported on June 25 that 11 European countries have a “very significant resurgence” of COVID cases, with more moderate increases in 30 more. The 11 countries of concern are: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, North Macedonia, Sweden, and Ukraine, as reported by the BBC. As of July 1, Portugal reinstated some lockdown restrictions in Lisbon’s suburbs to deal with a new outbreak. The Ukraine is also discussing reinstating lockdowns.

An Austrian ski resort area, Ischgl, was earlier identified as the likely ground zero of Europe’s COVID infections. The area is known as the “Ibiza of the Alps” for its busy nightlife, and infections from there likely spread to many parts of Europe and the world. A new study of the region shows that while 15% of residents had COVID symptoms, over 40% carry antibodies for the virus. The study concluded that 85% of infected people did not know they were infected, contributing to greater virus transmission.

Ireland, a country that is accepting travelers from all countries providing they quarantine for 14 days, is lifting its mandatory quarantine rule as of July 9 for passengers arriving from countries that have controlled their COVID infections. This is unlikely to include the U.K. or U.S.

Serbia, since it is still negotiating its EU membership, was able to open its borders when and to whom it deemed appropriate. Serbia opened its borders on May 22, to the same countries that were allowed entry pre-pandemic. Mask use is encouraged in indoor public areas. Serbia’s COVID information is updated on its main COVID website.

Portugal, Greece, and Iceland initially announced they would also be open to travelers outside of Europe by mid-June. However, exact rules remain unclear. Greece released new information on June 15 which implies that visitors from outside the EU will be permitted entry as of July 1. For Iceland, the full opening date of June 15 was not for all countries, only for the EU and Schengen countries, as well as the U.K. Testing or 14-day isolation is required. For Portugal, travelers from the U.S., Canada, Brazil, and Portuguese-speaking countries were specifically noted as welcome but then officials said that reciprocity would be the basis for a decision. Portugal has some details on the Visit Portugal website, with restrictions varying somewhat by region.

Formal criticisms are underway about when countries implemented restrictions and lockdowns and when they started lifting them. Italy’s prime minister was questioned by prosecutors June 12 about why lockdowns were not implemented earlier in two cities in Lombardy, with debate over which level of government should have made the decision. The Guardian reports that Turkey’s medical association says the government’s decisions to ease COVID restrictions were too soon, caused a new rise in cases, and were “not based on scientific facts.”  Calling the U.K.’s mandatory 14-day quarantine for new arrivals, which came into effect June 8, overly severe and without scientific evidence, three U.K. airlines started legal action against the government.

On June 11, the EU announced plans for further easing of travel restrictions. Starting July 1, foreign students, certain types of workers and non-EU nationals with EU residency will be allowed to return to the continent. By then Europe’s internal borders should return to pre-pandemic normal.

Denmark and Norway announced that travel between the two countries will be allowed as of June 15, but that Sweden would not be included. The Guardian reports that the numbers of COVID deaths in Sweden are four times higher than the other Nordic countries combined. Sweden’s foreign minister labeled excluding the country a political decision that was unjustifiable on health grounds. Reuters reports that Greece will open to tourism on June 15 and will welcome travelers from 29 countries, including, unusually, several outside of Europe. The non-European countries include Australia, China, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea. Additional countries are expected to be added before July 1.

In Turkey (both the European and Asian parts of the country), the internal travel ban between worst-affected cities is no longer in place and restaurants reopened June 1. Montenegro, which declared no active COVID cases on May 24, opened its borders June 1. However, as USA Today reports, it is only for citizens of EU countries that have a maximum of 25 COVID-19 patients per 100,000 inhabitants. When making the announcement, Montenegro’s prime minister listed the currently eligible countries: Albania, Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia.

Countries are also trying to tempt tourists. Sicily plans to pay for every third night of travelers’ stays and offers vouchers for other discounts. If a tourist tests positive for COVID during their Cyprus holiday, the country announced it will provide free COVID-19 healthcare and cover their family’s hotel expenses in a new “quarantine hotel.” Monaco, which follows the guidelines of France, expects to open its borders in mid-June. Restaurants and bars in the principality are expected to open in early June and hotels shortly after. Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo, for example, will open June 19 and plans to attract road trippers by offering free parking, welcome drinks, and enhanced booking flexibilities.

Countries have a variety of initiatives in place to prevent further transmission. For example, Albania’s draft tourism and health protocols require businesses to have COVID-19 coordinators to oversee preventative measures for staff and guests, and beachgoers will need to be checked for fever and sign a declaration that they don’t have symptoms. The Czech Republic opened hotels and pubs May 24, reports Al Jazeera. Bulgaria is easing restrictions for EU residents, and Cyprus is opening its airports as of mid-June. Poland reopened restaurants and museums but extended restrictions on domestic flights until May 31 and on international flights to June 6. Greece’s tourism season officially opens June 15, thanks to the country’s low case numbers and fewer than 200 deaths. To help encourage travel, Greece temporarily reduced its VAT from 24% to 13% for tickets on planes, trains, and buses. Slovenia is encouraging domestic travel by offering its citizens vouchers for $220 USD for holidays within the country, reports the BBC.

On May 13, the European Commission released phased plans to reopen EU borders. First borders were opened to seasonal workers, then between countries with “similar epidemiological situations,” and then all EU borders will be open. Guidelines for hotels, restaurants, and beaches were announced, as were guidelines for individuals about wearing face coverings and maintaining physical distance. The Guardian reports that hotels, transportation modes, and beaches are asked to enforce them.

“Travel bubbles” and “corona corridors” are being discussed to ease travel between nations that have their COVID cases under control. As of May 15, Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians are able to travel within the three countries, reports CNN. Over the May 16 weekend, borders between Austria, France, Germany, Luxembourg, and Switzerland opened further. France, the U.K., and Ireland discussed putting a travel agreement in place, as did Greece, Cyprus, and Israel. Not all countries are ready to participate: Spain will keep borders closed to most travelers until July and requires a two-week quarantine for anyone entering the country as of May 15.

On May 14, Slovenia declared its COVID-19 epidemic over; the CBC reported it’s the first European country with this status. When EU travelers arrive in Slovenia, a seven-day quarantine is no longer required, although people with COVID-19 symptoms will not be allowed to enter. Small hotels, restaurants, and bars were allowed to open the week of May 18. Reuters reports that Austria is opening bars, restaurants, and some museums as of May 15, and plans to allow “seated cultural events” by the end of May, first no larger than 100 people, then up to 500 by early August, but up to 1,000 if there’s a “special security concept.” The Czech Republic will soon allow gatherings of up to 300, and sporting events have the green light as of May 25.

Greece planned to open its borders to some travelers as of June 1 but then changed it to June 15. International flights should resume by July 1. Iceland plans to reopen to international arrivals by June 15, with either a test on arrival or a quarantine period required.

Though COVID-19 was first reported on December 31, 2019 in Wuhan, China, French doctors published a study on May 3 that shows that a Paris patient likely had COVID-19 in late December. The patient had not been to China nor traveled since August.

The head of the United Nations drew attention to the rise in anti-foreigner hate and xenophobia around the world, particularly anti-Muslim attacks, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and prejudice against refugees and migrants. CNN reports that international health experts warn that diseases like HIV/AIDS, measles, tuberculosis, and malaria could surge because of a shift in health resources toward COVID-19.

Opening up travel in Europe is pressured by calls from the industry to “make holidays possible in 2020.” Borders remained closed to nonessential travel until at least May 15, when the EU reassessed the situation. Germany’s tourism minister said that advice for Germans to avoid international travel would be lifted by mid-June at the earliest. The French interior minister said EU borders will remain closed, but that Schengen countries are discussing border changes and neighboring countries’ reciprocity options. The European Commission summarizes the situation on their travel and transportation during the coronavirus pandemic page.

The WHO declared that the peak of COVID-19’s first wave has passed in many European countries. The eurozone’s economy had the fastest and sharpest contraction since the region’s statistics were amalgamated in 1995. Though case numbers are still climbing, at the end of April 21 EU countries announced plans to relax restrictions to get citizens back to work and back to spending to boost the economy. An additional 11 countries were making plans to do so, reports The Guardian. They’re buoyed by reports that the partial lifting of the Czech Republic’s and Denmark’s lockdowns have not resulted in a surge of COVID cases. Deutsche Welle lists lockdown and border closure details by country and the EU issued a roadmap for lifting containment measures. Warnings persist that the pandemic is still at early stages and until a vaccine is developed and readily available, physical distancing is still necessary to prevent second and third waves of infection.

EU tourism ministers met April 27 to discuss supports to the tourism sector, which is 10% of the EU’s economy and 12% of jobs. Croatia proposed creating continent-wide health and security travel protocols as well as “tourist corridors” with rules determined by epidemiologists.

The BBC described how countries first seemed more interested in providing domestic holiday options for their citizens—such as by opening Belgian beaches only for Belgians—rather than restarting tourism within the EU or more broadly. France and Spain projected their beaches won’t open until at least June. Discussions were underway about EU airlines changing their compensation for canceled flights from cash to vouchers to help them stay afloat.

In her April 16 speech to the EU parliament, EU president Ursula von der Leyen said “Europe as a whole offers a heartfelt apology” to Italy, for letting the country down as the virus first spread there from China. She added, “The real Europe is standing up, the one that is there for each other when it is needed the most.” She spoke about how political honesty is essential for overcoming the pandemic and called for populists who “point fingers or deflect blame” to stop. Economic recovery remains a challenge. EU leaders met April 22 to endorse the rescue package developed by EU finance ministers. NPR reported progress to a longer-term economic recovery was underway but agreement on a plan was not yet in place.

Leaders of the G7 met April 16 and, as described by the Globe & Mail, “confronted Donald Trump” regarding his statements about cutting funding to the World Health Organization (WHO). The other leaders expressed support for the WHO and the importance of fighting the pandemic through shared information and coordinated science.

Supporting funding of the WHO was also discussed at the April 16 meeting of the Alliance for Multilateralism. The informal network of foreign affairs ministers, founded by France and Germany, has a goal “to renew the global commitment to stabilize the rules-based international order, uphold its principles and adapt it, where necessary.” The Alliance’s April 16 joint statement begins with “The COVID-19 pandemic is a wake-up call for multilateralism” and calls for global cooperation and solidarity. It has 24 signatories from Europe, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, the Middle East, North, Central, and South America. The United States has not yet participated.

Two separate studies show that COVID cases in the United States originated not from travelers from China but from Europe and that it began in January before the White House’s January 31 China travel ban and before the March 11 Europe travel ban. The studies traced the genome of the virus to reach their conclusions. The first COVID-19 case in the U.S. was reported January 13.

The head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) called the economic crisis brought on by COVID-19 the worst the world has seen since the Great Depression in the 1930s. EU finance ministers, after extensive debate, reached agreement on April 9 for a financial rescue package worth 500 billion euros. It will include increased lending capacity by the European Investment Bank, unemployment insurance measures, and business loans in an attempt to ease the severe recession which has already started and to try to prevent a depression. No agreement was reached about issuing long-term financing, called “coronabonds,” as reported by The Guardian, showing the rift between southern countries and northern ones like the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, and Germany.

There is rising concern about authoritarianism and the severity of measures in some countries, particularly when measures are in place without time limits. Hungary instituted a new law on March 30 allowing the government to rule by decree for an unlimited time; it’s the first EU country classified as “partly free” by Freedom House. The BBC reported concerns raised by journalists about censorship in Serbia, where a journalist was arrested for reporting on hospital conditions. Albania’s strict COVID response includes a weekday 16-hour curfew and a weekend 40-hour lockdown. Slovenia’s information commissioner warned the prime minister that if proposed initiatives were implemented, the country “would become a ‘police state.’” On April 30, a retiring Polish judge said she thought Poland is moving quickly towards being an authoritarian state.

On April 2, 13 EU states released a statement outlining concerns about threats to democracy and human rights. The Guardian analyzed the situation, explaining how COVID in Europe initially brought a “me-first response” but then gradually evolving to countries donating medical supplies to each other and providing medical care to other nations’ citizens. While a joint health response is slowly coming together, countries were divided about how to respond to the economic crisis. Trust diminished and buried concerns and stereotypes re-emerged. The EU president called for the next EU budget to be a “Marshall Plan,” the post-WWII aid program for Western Europe implemented by the U.S.

As of March 19, the U.S. State Department’s warning is at “Level 4: Do Not Travel,” the highest level, regardless of destination in the world. It advises Americans to “arrange for immediate return to the United States unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.” The CDC’s level-3 warning to avoid non-essential travel in Europe and the separate level 3 warning for the U.K. and Ireland remain. The CDC raised its global outbreak alert to level 3 recommending Americans “avoid nonessential travel.” The CDC lists advisories by country on its website.

On March 11, Donald Trump announced a travel ban against Europe’s 26 Schengen countries and on March 14, the U.K. and Ireland were added. The ban means that as of March 14, foreign nationals who have been in any of those countries within the last 14 days are barred from entering the U.S. for the next 30 days. It does not apply to U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and their immediate families. They are able to return home but may be required to self-isolate or be quarantined for 14 days.

On March 17, EU leaders announced what The Guardian calls “the strictest travel ban in its history.” This means a 30-day suspension of all travel by non-EU citizens for all 26 member countries. There are a few exemptions including permanent residents, U.K. citizens, and medical workers.

On March 19, Italy and France reported that many of the COVID-19 patients admitted to ICUs are neither elderly nor do they have underlying health conditions. Officials in many countries were stunned at the number of people defying advice to stay in their homes and maintain physical distance. Several countries extended their lockdowns.

The Italian prime minister warned that Europe will face a “hard, severe” recession and that “extraordinary and exceptional measures” are needed to minimize it. The Guardian reported that the Kosovo government lost a non-confidence vote on March 25 and then faced a constitutional crisis in addition to a COVID crisis. The head of the EU criticized EU leaders on March 26 for not taking a whole-of-continent approach to battling COVID, saying that border closures and bans on exporting medical equipment are making the situation worse.

G7 foreign ministers met March 25 but were unable to issue their planned joint statement because the U.S. insisted on calling COVID-19 the “Wuhan virus” and the other G7 ministers refused, as reported by the CBC. G20 leaders met March 26 to improve the world’s coordinated approach to both the health and economic aspects of COVID-19. Discussions included addressing the airline industry.

Airlines continue to curtail flights in response to border closures and reduced demand. Travelers in Europe, as well as in the rest of the world, report showing up at the airport to have their flight canceled and needing to try to reschedule.

So, Should You Change Your Travel Plans?

Residents of Europe and a few other select countries can start to plan trips, though caution is still needed so as not to bring second waves of infection. Most governments continue to advise their citizens to reconsider and cancel nonessential travel to Europe and the rest of the world in an effort to slow the spread of disease and cushion health care systems. Given the CDC and State Department warnings, the U.S.-Europe travel ban, and the ban of entry of non-EU nationals, flights to Europe are still significantly affected.

For all travel, follow the advice of health authorities like the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control, both in terms of where to limit travel and how to protect yourself from getting infected and infecting others. When in doubt, double-check other governments’ advice, like Canada’s. It’s wise to also check the website of the public health authority of the country you plan on visiting.

Be prepared for self-isolation or quarantine upon arrival and when you return home, with a chance of rules changing without notice. Seniors and those with underlying health conditions will want to take extra precautions, as will anyone who has close contacts in those categories. We all need to do whatever we can to prevent vulnerable populations from becoming ill and to slow the spread of COVID-19 so our health care systems are able to respond, as outlined in our general coronavirus advice.

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