It is not only Spain that has become a travel pariah in Europe, added to the red list of some neighbors. Belgium has just banned tourism in several regions of France, Spain and Switzerland, and its red zone is growing as the Covid epidemic worsens.
While much of Europe is in the throes of a resurgence of coronaviruses, a number of countries are introducing new restrictions on travel to and from parts of the continent. Even the closing of borders and the ban on all trips, except essential ones, to certain countries or regions in the interior.
As Belgium experiences a massive spike in new cases at home, it is also banning travel to some European locations with a worsening corona crisis. On Saturday, the Foreign Ministry bolstered its red list, adding parts of Switzerland, France, Spain, Bulgaria, Romania and Lithuania.
- Three Swiss cantons, Vaud in the Lake Geneva region, the city of Geneva itself and southern Valais (home to the Matterhorn) are now on the red list.
- The same goes for the Mayenne department in northern France, where several Covid-19 clusters have been identified, and masks are also mandatory in outdoor public places in some 69 cities.
- The Basque region of Navarre has been added to the prohibited zones in Spain which already include the municipality of Barcelona and the region of Aragon.
- All of Lithuania is banned.
This means that all non-essential travel to these areas is out of the question. Anyone returning or arriving from red list areas, must be tested for Covid and quarantine says government.
“Red zones are municipalities, districts, towns, regions or countries that have been locked out by the country in question or where Belgian tourists run a very high risk of infection. For these areas, Belgium has implemented a formal travel ban.
“People returning from these areas will be treated as ‘high risk contacts’, which means they will have to be tested and go into quarantine or self-isolate.”
Cases in Belgium soar: 6th worst in EU
The irony is of course that Belgian travelers also pose a risk to the rest of Europe with infection levels as they are now. This decision comes as Belgium records on average more than 500 new Covid-19 infections per day: an increase of 60% in one week.
Belgium has also expanded its list of “orange zones” – places where visitors are advised to exercise greater caution. Last week Northern Ireland, Wales and four parts of northern England were on the orange list.
Belgium is also seeing a sharp increase in hospitalizations, with the total number of corona cases exceeding 70,000 – the sixth worst outbreak to date in the EU. According to Deutsche Welle, the number of patients in intensive care has doubled in one month. Health officials warn that “the youngest make up the bulk of new infections.”
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The excluded Swiss trio are angry with the Belgian decision. Much like Spain is on the verge of being taken off the list of non-quarantined trips to the UK. And for similar reasons: they say this decision unfairly harms tourism, while the cases in Belgium are much worse. At least Belgium is focusing on not whole countries in the region. This has been the criticism leveled at Britain with its blanket ban on Spain.
The cantonal authorities described it as “incomprehensible” and want the federal government to intervene. Over the last 14 days, the cumulative infection rate in Vaud is 23 per 100,000 inhabitants, 10 out of 100,000 in Valais. While in Belgium, this figure is 44 reports Info Switzerland. “The Vaud rate is therefore almost half that of Belgium.”
Switzerland’s criterion for deciding on a “risk zone” is an infection rate of 60 per 100,000 inhabitants. That’s based on a 15-day trend, and quite high compared to the EU’s measure of around 20. That’s the average the bloc uses to decide which countries to reopen its borders for tourism.
France: Travel warnings multiply as virus grows
Could other regions of France soon be included on Belgium’s red list? New daily infections reaching over 1,000 per day, up from 250 per day in July.
Leading health experts in France warn the virus is “circulating more actively again”, in part due to disregard for social distancing and mask use.
Already more French regions were added to Belgium’s orange list last week. Joining the Greater Paris (excluding Seine-et-Marne) and the Pays de la Loire are the Department of the North, Haut-Rhin, Haute-Savoie, Meurthe-et-Moselle and Vosges. This means that quarantine and a Covid test are not recommended upon return from these areas.
There is still no movement from Switzerland or France to reciprocate the travel bans in Belgium. Amid discussions about a possible second wave across Europe, however, this may be a sign of things to come. More countries could choose to add places, at least high-risk regions, to no-go zones.