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Coronavirus Outbreak: Should You Cancel a Trip to Europe?

Fodor's logoFodor's 16/10/2020 Johanna Read
a woman standing in front of a building © Provided by Fodor's

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

Last week Europe crossed the 100,000 new daily case mark, and cases continue to climb. France alone had 30,000 new daily cases on October 15. The WHO warned that the situation in Europe is “alarming” and that the world should see it as a “wake-up call.” The EU commissioner for health and food safety said “this might be our last chance to prevent a repeat of last spring.”

Several countries continue to report the highest new daily COVID-19 case numbers since lockdowns started lifting in the spring, and some continue to report record highs. Renewed and continued restrictions are still in place in many parts of Europe. New cases numbers are attributed to travel and people growing tired of restrictions and becoming lax.

The EU opened to travelers beyond its borders on July 1, but the U.S. is not yet one of the countries allowed to visit. On August 6, the U.S. removed the Global Level 4 Health Advisory, electing instead to designate advisory levels to individual countries. Regardless, until the pandemic is over, keep asking yourself: Yes, you CAN travel, but SHOULD you?

Worldwide, cases are now climbing by almost 2.5 million a week. There were one million cases on April 2, while on June 18—100 days after the WHO declared a pandemic on March 11—there were more than eight million. The world hit the 10 million mark on June 28, 20 million on August 19, and 30 million on September 17.

As of October 16 according to Worldometers, the world has 39,299,818 confirmed cases, 1,104,816 deaths, and at least 29,454,806 people recovered. The highest cases numbers are in the U.S. (8,228,001 cases, 222,935 deaths), India (7,383,104 cases, 112,357 deaths), Brazil (5,170,996 cases, 152,513 deaths), and Russia (1,369,313 cases, 23,723 deaths). Rising case numbers in Spain and France in particular resulted in changes to the order of the remaining countries in the top ten over the weekend of October 9. Spain is now fifth (it was ninth in early September), followed by Colombia,  Argentina, Peru, and Mexico, with France again in the tenth spot. 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? For those of you who must travel, read our advice in our new free e-book Fodor’s Guide to Safe and Healthy Travel.

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

The Latest

Many European countries continue to post record highs in daily new cases and, sometimes, in deaths per day. Healthcare systems in several countries are again at risk of being overwhelmed with COVID patients. On October 15, the WHO said Europe’s rising case numbers are of “great concern” and warned that without effective countermeasures, death rates may climb four or five times above April’s peak within just a few months.

The Guardian reported on October 14 that about 5,000 people die each day around the world from COVID-19, down from a high of 7,500 in April. The WHO’s chief scientist warned about rising infection and ICU hospitalization rates—100,000 new cases daily in Europe alone: “Mortality increases always lag behind increasing cases by a couple of weeks,” said Soumya Swaminathan.

Swaminathan also said that healthy, young people might not have access to COVID vaccine until 2022. Healthcare workers will be the first to receive the vaccine when it becomes available, likely followed by the highest-risk frontline workers and the elderly. More than 170 countries—including, most recently, China—have signed on to the WHO’s Covax initiative. It guarantees an even distribution of available vaccine by population to participating countries.

Resulting from the September 4 call by EU president Ursula von der Leyen for stability, clarity, and predictability on travel rules, the EU approved a common COVID-19 travel framework on October 13. Regions are designated by a color code—green, orange, or red—based on the number of cases per 100,000 in the population in the most recent 14-day period and on a test positivity rate of above or below 4%.

Green (low-risk) areas have fewer than 25 cases out of 100,000 and a test positivity rate below 4%. Orange (medium-risk) areas have either a) fewer than 50 cases and a positivity rate of 4% or higher, or b) between 25 and 150 cases and a positivity rate below 4%. Red (high-risk) areas have either a) more than 50 cases and a positivity rate of 4% or higher, or b) more than 150 cases and a positivity rate below 4%. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) is responsible for determining the rating.

Countries remain able to set whatever restrictions they see fit to protect their own citizens and healthcare systems. The EU recommends that green areas have no COVID restrictions to cross the border. For orange and red areas, the new framework asks that EU member states give each other at least 48 hours notice before implementing new measures, with at least 24 hours notice to the public. The EU recommends that travelers not be banned or refused entry and that measures like testing and quarantine be made in proportion to the epidemiological situation in the country of arrival and departure. An updated map showing countries’ green, orange, or red COVID status will be published weekly on the Re-Open EU website.

The first week, half of Europe and the U.K. were designated as red. No countries were designated as green. Five countries did not receive a color designation, as the ECDC did not have sufficient information: Austria, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, and Sweden.

Amongst Europe’s countries posting record highs in daily new cases are France (31,000 cases on October 15, up almost 10,000 from the day before), Germany (7,000 cases October 15), Italy (8,800 cases October 15 and up almost 15,00 from the day before), the Czech Republic (9,700 October 15), Romania (4,000 October 15), Portugal (2,100 October 14, up from the previous high of 1,646 on October 10), Austria, Belgium, Bosnia, Malta, Poland, and Switzerland. Countries with daily case numbers not seen since April include Ireland and Spain. England is said to be “very close” to its April peak and has about 47,000 new infections daily. Details of Europe’s epidemiological situation and the resulting restrictions follow.

France declared a new public health state of emergency on October 14 and called COVID-19 a public health disaster. The country exceeded 20,000 new daily infections three times in the past week and on October 15 had more than 30,000 new cases. The president wants to reduce the daily number between 3,000 and 5,000. New restrictions to curtail infection include a minimum four-week curfew restricting residents of France’s major cities to their homes between 9 p.m. and 6 p.m. The curfew goes into effect on October 18 in Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, and five other cities.

To facilitate travel and in response to pressure from airlines, France will have rapid COVD testing at some airports in place as early as next week. The first departing flights targeted will be those to the U.S. and Italy and the first arriving flights will be those on France’s red list. Though less accurate than PCR tests, experts say that rapid testing is beneficial if it is widespread.

On October 16, an Italian infectious disease expert said that Italy has just two weeks to reduce its rapidly rising transmission rates or it risks “following in the footsteps” into the same crises as neighboring countries. Italy’s doctors warned October 14 that if Italy’s daily infection rate rises to that of France, hospitals would have capacity for only about two months. Masks are mandatory outdoors in Italy as of early October, and government officials are recommending people wear them indoors when visiting with anyone outside of their immediate household.

Germany’s Angela Merkel said the country’s COVID cases are “in a phase of exponential growth” and that the next days and weeks are critical for determining Germany’s success in getting through the pandemic. Germany has a new threshold for restrictions: 35 or more new infections per 100,000 people in the population over seven days. In those regions, face masks are required in public when physical distancing is not possible. Previously, restrictions came into place at the threshold level of 50 cases per 100,000. However, Merkel said the change was because “we have seen some examples of how fast the increase happens from 35 to 50.” Additional restrictions coming into effect at the 50 case mark include the closure of restaurants at 11 p.m., limits on all gatherings to ten people, and, in homes, to a maximum of two households.

The curfew implemented in Berlin last week was suspended October 16 by a Berlin administrative court, saying there was not enough evidence showing that bars should carry a “significant share” of the blame for rising infections. Several German states rejected attempts for rules to prevent hotels from hosting travelers from COVID hot spots unless the travelers have a negative COVD test result. Other travel news in Germany includes the addition of new countries to its advisory list of destinations where travel should be only for essential purposes: France, Malta, the Netherlands, and Slovakia.

A partial lockdown in the Netherlands began October 14, with restaurants and bars closed, new mask rules, and alcohol sales restrictions. In Spain, the Catalonia region—including Barcelona—has 15 days of stricter measures as of October 15. Bars and restaurants are restricted to takeout, shops are at 30% capacity, and gyms and theaters at 50%. New restrictions are expected for Belgium, where hospitals are at risk of running out of beds.

As of October 15 in Portugal, most gatherings are limited to five people and fines for businesses not in compliance are doubled. Parliament will soon decide whether to make masks mandatory outdoors in public and whether some workforces must use Portugal’s contact tracing app.

The U.K. announced a new three-tiered COVID restriction system for England on October 12, which came into effect October 14. It was meant to simplify and standardize rules and outlines restrictions for areas dependent on their designation as medium, high, or very high risk. The Guardian reported that the new policy “descended into chaos” as government officials in some of the areas—particularly those in England’s northwest—rejected the lockdowns that apply to their highest risk designation. Liverpool is one of the “very high” risk regions, which means bars and pubs are closed and there are bans on the mixing of households. As of October 16, London is classified at the “high” alert level, up from medium.

Medical experts in the U.K. continue their calls for a “circuit breaker” to stop virus transmission and give much-needed time to improve contact tracing. Expressing concern about managing the pandemic in the long term, the U.K.’s foreign secretary said October 16 that Russia is creating disinformation to undermine and “disrupt the attempts to find a safe vaccine.”

A December 8 to 22 lockdown for all universities in England is under discussion as a mechanism to prevent the feared widespread of COVID when students return home for Christmas holidays. The hope is that the lockdown would minimize the chance students contract the virus prior to holidays and therefore they wouldn’t bring it home with them to more vulnerable populations.

Northern Ireland has the U.K.’s strictest COVID protection measures. Pubs and restaurants are closed for four weeks, there are new limits on social gatherings. Across an open border from Northern Ireland is Ireland, a member of the EU. While the open border remains, on October 14 Ireland upgraded the caution status of three border counties to level four. Nonessential shops and gyms and leisure centers are closed and Ireland also banned mixing of households and visits to homes and gardens.

The latest changes to England’s list of countries exempt from mandatory quarantine goes into effect October 18: Italy, San Marino, and Vatican City State will be removed from the green list and Crete, Greece will be added.  See below for details on how the list has evolved. The EU’s “green list” of non-European countries allowed into the continent remains at ten, down from the original 14 countries.

Before planning any travel, travelers should check their home country’s travel warnings (the State Department and CDC caution against travel to most countries) and rules about quarantine both on arrival and when returning home. When planning any travel, be aware not just of your own risks of contracting COVID, but the chance that you could bring COVID with you and infect vulnerable populations. Given high false negative rates and other issues, a negative COVID test is not a guarantee that you are COVID-free. Recovery from COVID-19 does not guarantee immunity from contracting the disease again nor from spreading it to others.

Europe Overall

On October 8, Europe crossed the 100,000 new daily COVID cases mark for the first time. Europe’s epicenters are France, Italy, Spain, Russia, and the U.K. European countries reporting record numbers of new COVID cases include Bulgaria, France, Poland, Russia, Switzerland, and Ukraine. Other countries—including Germany and Spain—continue to post record highs not seen since April and May.

The EU commissioner for health and food safety said September 24 that “this might be our last chance to prevent a repeat of last spring” and that it is “abundantly clear that this crisis is not behind us.” She identified several countries of high concern due to their high rates of occupancy in intensive care: Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, Romania, and Spain. A September report by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said 13 countries have “sustained increases” in new infections: the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands. Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, and the U.K.

On September 17, the WHO warned of “alarming rates of transmission” across Europe with rates in many countries higher than they were at what was thought to be the peak of the pandemic in the late spring. The WHO cautioned every country to see Europe’s situation as a wake-up call, reduce quarantine periods, and to take the risks of travel into account.

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 in Europe 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. Initially, travelers from within the EU were not required to provide test results, be tested, or quarantine, however, several EU countries added restrictions for some of their neighbors in August.

The EU allows residents of 10 non-EU countries into Europe (originally 14) without the restrictions other countries face Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, New Zealand, Rwanda, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia, and Uruguay (Montenegro and Serbia, then Algeria, and then Morocco were removed). China remains 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, and rapidly rising case numbers, means entry rules can change quickly.

The EU’s website, Reopen EU, explains each country’s COVID rules, transportation availability, and the types of tourist infrastructure that’s open, and shows the risk designation of each country by color.

Euronews also lists entry requirements by country as does Al Jazeera. A new website, Covid.Control.com, identifies epidemiological data, entry restrictions, and the status of tourism-related openings for countries in Europe and around the world via an interactive map.

Confusion remains about who can travel where, which countries are considered “safe” and by whom, what is required to cross a country’s borders, as well as whether it’s ethical to travel at all. More governments are issuing and updating “green lists” of countries with travel allowed from and/or to them. European countries with green, red, and, sometimes, yellow or orange “caution” lists include Ireland, Norway, Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, Ukraine, and Malta.

There are often major differences in the countries on various lists. As well, some lists are based on country of residence, others on citizenship, and others are based on where travel originated. A stark indication of countries’ differing rationale in creating their lists is the difference between the EU’s and England’s lists. Originally, there were only four countries on both lists: Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea. Countries on the EU’s original list but not on England’s are Canada, Georgia, Rwanda, Thailand, Tunisia, and Uruguay. As well, England’s green list does not include all of the EU’s 28 member states. U.K. nationals are allowed entry into Europe because the U.K. is, for travel purposes until the end of 2020, a member of the EU.

As of October 16, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reports 4,549,993 COVID-19 cases and 198,886 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, but 16 countries now have more cases than Italy. As of October 15, Italy has 381,602 cases and 36,372 deaths. The number of new daily cases is climbing rapidly—Italy had almost 9,000 daily new cases on October 14, when the previous two weeks had about 5,000 per day,  up from about 2,500 in early October.  Prior to this, Italy hadn’t had 5,000 new daily cases since March. On October 14, Italy’s doctors warned if the daily infection rates rise to those of France, hospitals wouldn’t have capacity beyond two months.

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. On August 3, Reuters reported that a sampling of antibody testing in Italy indicates that the actual rate of infection is about six times higher than the official numbers of positive tests, meaning that 2.5% of Italians, or about 1.5 million people, had been infected at that point.

As of early October, masks are mandatory outdoors throughout the country. The government also recommends that masks be worn indoors when visiting with anyone outside of your immediate household. Italy’s state of emergency, set to end in October, was extended to January 31. Most of Italy remains open, including Rome’s Colosseum and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. 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.

In October, Italy added Belgium, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and the U.K., to its orange list of countries from which travelers are subject to a mandatory swab test on arrival. Italy’s domestic travel measures to reduce the spread of the virus include so-called “COVID-free flights.” Starting September 16, proof of a negative test is required to fly between Rome and Milan; both an airport rapid test and a test within 72 hours are acceptable. Italy may extend this measure to international flights. Italy opened for both domestic travel and travel from EU and Schengen countries on June 3. Despite the EU’s green list of 14 (now 10) non-EU countries that do not need quarantine, the CBC reported that Italy would develop its own lists. On July 9, Italy announced an initial red list of 13 countries barred from entry because of their high COVID rates. Italy updates its red and orange lists regularly, but news reports often announce changes before the Italian government website is updated.

In late September, the Financial Times published a piece explaining why Italy has not been as hard hit by the so-called second wave of cases in the summer and fall, unlike other European countries like France, Spain, and the U.K. Reasons include the gradual lifting of restrictions and the willingness to reinstate them early when needed, high compliance by Italians to wearing masks and maintaining physical distance, holding businesses accountable for safety and giving employees the right to claim damages, strong testing and contact tracing mechanisms, as well as fear after so many Italian lives were lost early in the pandemic. On October 16, CNN reported that the only two residents of the tiny hamlet of Nortosce insist on wearing masks and upholding Italy’s COVID rules, saying it would be disrespectful to ignore rules even though their efforts just protect one other person.

As the CBC reports, Italy took action after so many of its citizens died early in the pandemic. For example, the health system hired an additional 20,000 medical staff, doubled the number of ICU beds, and increased hospital beds for infectious and respiratory patients eightfold. Italy implemented comprehensive testing and contact tracing, testing everyone within the social circle of an infected person regardless of exposure, which is said to have identified thousands of asymptomatic cases and prevented those patients from unknowingly infecting others. In late July, Italy extended the country’s state of emergency until October; in October it was then extended to January 31, 2021. This means the prime minister can implement lockdowns and other health protection measures without parliamentary approval.

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.

Many factors likely contributed to why Italy was, initially, hit so hard by the virus, as described in this Wired story. For example, 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 had the highest number of flights to China (where the first cases of COVID-19 were seen), with the number tripling shortly before the pandemic hit. 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. 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.

As of October 15, France has almost 140,000 COVID-19 cases more than last week, with a total of 809,684 cases and 33,125 deaths A public health state of emergency was declared on October 14. France exceeded 20,000 new daily infections three times within a week and on October 15 had more than 30,000 new cases. New restrictions are being put into place in order to reduce daily infections to between 3,000 and 5,000.

Hospitals in and around Paris entered “emergency mode” in October, which means canceling nonessential procedures and staff vacations. Almost half of the ICU beds are occupied by COVID patients. As of October 18, there’s a minimum four-week curfew in nine of France’s major cities which restricts residents to their homes between 9 p.m. and 6 p.m., including in Paris, Lyon, Marseille, and Toulouse.

France has a new COVID classification system, announced on September 23. Several cities are at “maximum alert,” with bars not allowed to open. The first was Marseille, with Paris following October 6, and several other cities effective October 10. Several other cities are on “elevated alert” and classified as “reinforced danger zones.”

France adjusted its border controls on August 5. France has a red list of countries from which travelers are required to show a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours of their flight. For countries where it is difficult to get such a test, passengers may take the test at the arrival airport in France.

Masks are mandatory in public—indoors and outdoors—in Paris and some other cities. As of July 20, masks are mandatory in indoor public areas in France, including on public transportation. There’s a fine of 135 euros for non-compliance.

With respect to France’s top tourist sites, the Eiffel Tower reopened earlier than expected, on June 25. Check the website for current restrictions including which entrances, elevators, and services are open. Disneyland Paris reopened July 15 and requires advance registration to ensure entrance, due to limited capacity. As at Disney’s Orlando parks, masks are required for visitors over age 11 and physical distancing and sanitizing measures are in place.

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 353,822 as of October 16, with 9,829 deaths. For each of the past two days, Germany has had a record number of new daily cases.  Germany’s first case was reported on January 28. Coronavirus information in English is available on the German government’s website with entry and quarantine requirements detailed on Germany’s foreign ministry’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.

Travel-wise, Germany has a red list of high-risk destinations, updated daily. Initially, as of August 8, anyone arriving from those destinations (regardless of nationality) needed a COVID test on arrival, at airports and train stations. However, in late August, Germany announced a change to this process. Instead of testing on arrival, travelers from red-listed countries need to quarantine for at least five days and then get a COVID test at a designated testing center. Tests are no longer free unless ordered by a doctor. Germany continues to add countries and regions to its list when the rate of new COVID infections rises above 50 per 100,000 people in the population over a one week period.

Generally, the same criteria apply for Germany’s domestic protocols—any district with 50 new infections per 100,000 residents is required to implement lockdown restrictions. On October 9, Germany’s chancellor and the mayors of its largest cities agreed to tighter measures for areas that cross Germany’s threshold of 50 cases per 100,000 and agreed to implement mandatory mask rules for regions with 35 cases per 100,000. Berlin’s bar and restaurant curfew—the first time the city has had a curfew in 70 years—went into effect October 10. However, the restriction was suspended by a Berlin administrative court on October 16. The curfew remains in other cities like Frankfurt.

Museums, restaurants, shops, and most hotels in Germany are open. Hotels in some regions require guests arriving from COVID hot spots to prove they’ve had a negative COVID test within the last 48 hours. Face masks are mandatory when taking public transportation and in some public places. Germany’s shutdown and physical distancing measures began 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 can develop a vaccine, it would be available “for the whole world” and “not for individual countries.”

United Kingdom

As of October 15, the U.K. has 673,622 cases (up by more than 100,000 over last week) and 43,293 COVID-19 deaths. The U.K. continues to have about 17,000 new cases daily,  up from 7,000 two weeks ago and 3,400 the week before that. 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.

On October 14, a new three-tiered COVID restriction system came into effect in England, meant to simplify and standardize rules. The system designates areas by risk as medium, high, and very high. Liverpool was immediately designated as “very high” risk, resulting in the closing of bars and pubs and bans on the mixing of households. As of October 16, London is classified at the “high” alert level, up from medium. In the U.K., both hospital admissions and new cases are rising and England’s chief medical officer said in early October “we don’t have this under control at the moment.” The U.K.’s health minister said on September 20 that Britain is at a tipping point in the pandemic. Stricter measures were then introduced in the U.K., for example restaurants, pubs, and bars must close by 10 p.m. and police have the power to issue fines and make arrests to enforce six-foot distancing rules. Masks are mandatory in more places and anyone who can work at home is encouraged to do so.

The U.K.’s borders are open, however, as of June 8, there’s a mandatory quarantine period for some new arrivals. Each of the four U.K. nations has a green list of countries exempt from quarantine. For example, England’s list applies to passengers arriving in England from any of its current listed destinations, unless, in the preceding 14 days, travelers 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.

The latest change to England’s green “travel corridor” list was announced on October 15 and goes into effect October 18. Another Greek island, Crete, is added to the list as exempt from quarantine. Italy and the two microstates within it— San Marino and Vatican City State—will be removed from the green list.

The list changes frequently, past changes are as follows. Effective October 10, Greece’s Lesvos, Santorini, Serifos, and Zakynthos were added back to the list and again exempt from quarantine. Effective October 3, Poland, Turkey, and three Caribbean islands (Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba) were removed from the green list.

As of September 26, Curaçao, Denmark, Iceland, and Slovakia were removed from the green list. As of September 19, Singapore and Thailand were added and Guadeloupe and Slovenia were removed. As of September 12, Sweden was added, while French Polynesia, Hungary, Portugal (although not Madeira and the Azores), and Isle de la Réunion were removed from the list. As of September 7, seven Greek islands were removed from the green list: Crete, Lesvos, Mykonos, Santorini, Serifos, Tinos, and Zakynthos.

Effective August 29, Cuba was added as a green-listed country, while the Czech Republic, Jamaica, and Switzerland were removed from the list. On August 22, Portugal was added to the green list, and Austria, Croatia, and Trinidad and Tobago, were removed. As of August 15, travelers from Aruba, France, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, and Turks and Caicos were removed from the green list. On August 11, Brunei and Malaysia were added to the green list. On August 7, Andorra, The Bahamas, and Belgium were removed.

On July 30, Luxembourg was removed. On July 28, five countries were added: Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. On July 25, Spain was removed. On July 10, Serbia was removed. The list was first released on July 3, 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, incorporating the 14 overseas territories.

Scotland’s list and Wales’ list are similar—though not identical—to England’s. 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, has a green list of 15 European countries.

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; the national risk level is no longer reported on their website. 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.

Though initially excluded from the U.S.-Europe travel ban, both the U.K. and Ireland were included as of March 14.

Spain

Spain was Europe’s most coronavirus-affected country as of early April, but Russia has had more cases than Spain since the summer. However, as Spain faces its second wave, it became the country with the world’s fifth highest cases over the October 9th weekend. Spain had been holding in ninth spot since early September, was seventh at the end of September, and became the sixth most-affected country in the world in early October.

As of October 15, Spain has 972,958 cases, up by 88,000, and 33,553 deaths. Spain’s new daily case count is about 12,000, fluctuating from about 5,500 last week and 10,000 the week before. 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 first escalated in Spain. A new wastewater study shows the virus was present in Spain in mid-January.

Beginning in mid-July, Spain’s new cases numbers began to climb rapidly again. The Telegraph linked the rise in cases to the return of tourists. Spain’s head of health emergencies said August 20 that “things are not going well. If we continue to allow transmission to rise, even if most cases are mild, we will end up with many in the hospital, many in intensive care and many deaths.” Spain’s prime minister said August 24 that troops are available to regional governments that make requests to help manage COVID rates, including helping with contact tracing.

Spain continues to take a regional rather than a national approach. However, legal wranglings in the Madrid region resulted in the canceling of partial lockdown restrictions imposed by the Spanish health ministry on October 2. After giving the region the chance to reinstate the protections, the Spanish government imposed a state of emergency to enforce the partial lockdown on October 9. The restrictions are focussed on areas that have 500 or more new cases per 100,000 people; Madrid’s health minister wants that number to be 750 per 100,000. The region’s partial lockdown means, for two weeks, that only essential travel into and out of the area—such as for work or to seek medical treatment—is allowed. Bars and restaurants must close at 11:00. The Madrid region is Spain’s hardest-hit area and restrictions are strictest there.

Masks are mandatory on public transportation and in many public places throughout the country. Smoking is banned on streets and restaurant terraces where physical distancing is difficult. Nightclubs and late-night bars were closed in mid-August, alfresco drinking parties—the botellón—was banned.

Spain’s state of emergency was first declared March 14 and lifted June 21. 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 Year

A U.K. study showed that 86% of people who tested positive for COVID between April and June had none of the main COVID symptoms the day they took their test—no cough, fever, or loss of smell or taste—and 75% had no symptoms at all. This is further evidence of the importance of self-isolation after exposure to anyone with either a positive COVID test or with COVID symptoms, regardless of how well you feel.

Flight suspensions are again being reinstated to try to control the spread of the virus in Europe. In early October, Romania suspended flights from many of the countries on its high-risk list of 49 countries, with exceptions including other EU countries and the U.K. Previous rules for the 49 high-risk countries were a 10-to-14-day self-isolation upon arrival, with visitors staying fewer than three days allowed to skip self-isolation with a negative COVID test. As of September 2, Poland banned flights from dozens of countries, including Spain, France, and the U.S.

The WHO reminded countries that capacity for contact tracing is a key part of controlling the pandemic—particularly when reopening the economy—and is an aspect of pandemic response that many countries are not doing well enough. The WHO also stressed the importance of countries participating in the global vaccine initiative to ensure equitable access around the world to a vaccine once developed; by early October at least 167 countries have already agreed to contribute.

A new global study shows that, contrary to complaints, younger people are as diligent about COVID rules as older people, although results varied by country. The study also found that 18-25 year-olds are experiencing higher levels of pandemic stress than those 45 and older and that younger people are willing to contribute a higher portion of their income to help bring the pandemic under control.

Cases continue to rise in Europe and governments are enacting stricter measures to try to bring the virus back under control. September saw restrictions strengthened in many European countries. For example, Portugal extended its “state of contingency” until October 14, which restricts the size of gatherings, the closing time of businesses, and bans festivals and similar events. More places in Italy are making masks mandatory, including in Genoa’s historic center and in Naples and the Campania region. Ireland expanded its newly imposed measures from Dublin to Donegal (which borders Northern Ireland): for at least three weeks, indoor dining in restaurants and nonessential travel are banned in both places. University students in Scotland are not allowed to socialize outside their households nor go to bars and pubs. Spain’s health minister warned that “tough weeks are coming in Madrid” and asked Spaniards to “act with resolve to bring the pandemic under control.”

On September 23, the United Nations and the World Health Organization made a joint statement about the “infodemic” of COVID misinformation and disinformation. They called on governments to “develop and implement action plans” to combat the problem while still respecting freedoms of expression, and for the media and social media platforms to do their part to ensure people receive accurate information to help protect the health of the world’s population.

Finland implemented a pilot program at its main airport—COVID-sniffing dogs to help screen arriving passengers. Participating passengers take a swab of sweat from their neck and provide it through a hole in the wall for the dogs to sniff. To test the dogs’ accuracy, passengers are also encouraged to take a PCR test.

Six months after the WHO declared a worldwide pandemic, the head of the health agency said his greatest worry is the world’s lack of solidarity. He called for global leadership, particularly from world powers, and for the world to work together to fight COVID-19.

The head of the United Nations said the world needs a “quantum leap” in funding and described a $35 billion need, including $15 billion in the next three months, for global vaccine and treatment development, on top of the $3 billion already contributed to the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator program. He called COVID-19 the “number one global security threat” and said, “either we stand together or we will be doomed.” The president of the EU pledged to back the program saying “it is difficult to find a more compelling investment case.”

The Lancet medical journal published the results of a worldwide study about vaccines that took place between 2015 and 2019. It showed that public trust in vaccines is growing in Europe, but falling in many other parts of the world. The study showed a correlation between countries’ political instability, misinformation, and religious extremism with a lack of trust in vaccine safety.

The WHO said on September 4 that widespread vaccination for COVID-19 is unlikely before mid-2021. The spokesperson stressed that caution is needed to ensure vaccines are both safe and effective before they are distributed. This follows Russia’s rush to bring a vaccine to clinical trials and announcements in the U.S. for preparations to be made for vaccine rollout before the November presidential election. The World Economic Forum details how, pre-pandemic, it can normally take up to ten years to fully develop and test a vaccine.

In early September, Euronews described countries facing new daily case counts higher than when the outbreak was controlled in the spring. They include western European countries like Croatia, France, Greece, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain; and southeastern countries like Albania, Bulgaria, Montenegro, and Romania. Other countries facing resurgences include Belgium, Italy, and the U.K. Initially, the rising cases numbers did not have a parallel rise in hospital admissions, but many countries report hospital admissions increases and concerns about overwhelmed health care systems.

Virtually all airlines have a mandatory mask policy (and there’s new evidence that masks help protect both the wearer as well as people nearby). However, airlines have differing levels of enforcement. As of September 1, in order to be exempt from Lufthansa’s mask rules, for example, passengers need a negative COVID test taken within 48 hours and a medical certificate. National Geographic explained how air is cleaned aboard planes and the importance of masks for flying during the pandemic.

In early September, the head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said that tackling a global pandemic in isolation isn’t working, nor is the closing of individual borders. He made the case for a risk-management approach for quarantine, opening borders, and for greater cooperation in aviation, as reported by Travelweek.

  

The WHO said on August 20 that Europe is no longer the world’s COVID epicenter, as was declared in March. At that point, Europe had 17% of the world’s cases, about 3.9 million, with the Americas now the world’s official epicenter. Other regions continue to see “steep rises in cases,” said the WHO’s regional director for Europe. He blamed the resurgence on people “dropping their guard” and the easing of distancing measures. Bloomberg Opinion published Did Europe Make a Mistake Reopening Its Borders on August 22, describing how “the experiment has backfired” since many of the new cases are traced to travelers.

While Germany and Norway had planned to restart some cruises for domestic passengers, several crew members quickly contracted COVID-19 and those plans are on hold. Strict safety conditions were created by the European Maritime Safety Agency, the E.U.’s Healthy Gateways program, and Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

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 on June 25, and the approved list of 14 countries released on 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 original 14 countries were 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.

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.

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.

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 were 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, reported The Guardian.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.

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 on 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.

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 on January 13.

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.

In mid-March, the U.S. State Department put its warning at “Level 4: Do Not Travel,” the highest level, regardless of destination in the world. It advised 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 remained. The CDC raised its global outbreak alert to level 3 recommending Americans “avoid nonessential travel.”

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 can 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:” 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.

So, Should You Change Your Travel Plans?

Despite many reopened borders, caution is still needed so as not to worsen the second wave of infection many countries, particularly those in Europe, are facing. Most governments continue to advise their citizens to reconsider and cancel nonessential travel.

Be prepared for changing testing and self-isolation/quarantine rules (both upon arrival and when you return home). 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 can respond, as outlined in our general coronavirus advice.

 

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