Europe travel windows are closing

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Holiday lights are going out across Europe.

Just weeks after many countries opened their borders to travelers on the mainland, some have closed again, often on such short notice that people scramble to get home before quarantine orders are put in place. square.

Such confusion, often coupled with acrimony and threats of retaliation from countries that feel unfairly added to so-called “red lists” of dangerous destinations for COVID-19, appears doomed to undermine efforts to saving the vital economy of summer tourism in Europe long before the hot sun months have cooled in winter.

A week after Croatia was taken off the UK’s safety list, potentially preventing tens of thousands of British tourists from enjoying the sparkling blue waters and pretty islands of the Dalmatian coast, Switzerland has become the latest victim .

From Saturday 29 August at 04:00 GMT, anyone arriving in the UK from the highlands will be subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

The decision was announced after 300 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Switzerland, which hosted 1.6 million Britons in 2019, within 24 hours.

The Czech Republic, which has seen a 25% increase in three weeks, has also been added to the UK’s ‘red’ list, along with the Caribbean island of Jamaica, where weekly cases per 100,000 have increased. from 4.3 to 20.8, or the equivalent of 382%, in just seven days.

A Briton whose wedding was to take place in Prague on Saturday was among those affected by the British government’s decision.

Oliver, 38, who wanted to be referred to only by first name, told the PA Media news agency that many of his family and friends had to return home and miss the ceremony to avoid two weeks of quarantine.

“I have about 30 guests and my little sister, who is a bridesmaid, is distraught about having to go home tonight before the wedding (she is a teacher),” he said.

These latest travel changes come just weeks after Croatia was put on the Red List, by Slovenia, its second tourist nationality, and Austria.

Belgium recently added Malta to its high risk list, along with Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, Bulgaria and the United Kingdom. Norway added a number of destinations, including Greece, Ireland and Austria.

France was added to the UK’s risk list earlier this month, prompting howls of protest from legions of British holidaymakers who see staying with their neighbor as an annual summer rite, but also French authorities who threatened to reciprocate quarantine arrivals from France. United Kingdom

As a result, many holidaymakers traveling between Europe’s once-open internal borders now have to decide whether to postpone, cancel or continue their trip and resign themselves to two weeks of self-isolation upon their return.

Meanwhile, the destinations driven by an upsurge in tourists are now back to square one.

We are far from the excitement generated by the news that the European Union announced in July.

A list of ‘safe’ destinations outside the bloc was quickly drawn up, as various countries began to open up their borders to each other, such as the UK, which established ‘travel lanes’ between England, Wales and Northern Ireland and destinations including Spain, Germany and France.

Quarantine half-rounds

Of course, the guidelines were always “subject to change”, but no one could have predicted when and how often they would be changed in the weeks to come.

One of the first major turns came a few weeks later, when the UK pulled Spain from its list of safe destinations due to rising infection rates, a move that caused panic among some tourists and the condemnation of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who called the movement “unjust”.

“We are seeing governments fall back on quarantine measures as a way to fight the coronavirus,” said Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy The PC Agency and former member of the Quash Quarantine campaign group, which had previously tried to pressure the British government to withdraw it. general restrictions on all arrivals into the UK.

“And that’s not the answer, because it prevents people from traveling. This prevents the growth from coming back. ”

Authorities have also warned of other uncertainties to come. Grant Shapps, Britain’s Transport Minister, who was surprised by the change in quarantine rules while on vacation in Spain, said on Thursday that all travel windows were subject to sudden closure.

“Only travel if you can settle for an unannounced 14-day quarantine if necessary (I speak from experience!),” He said, via Twitter.

Global approach

While the decision to add or remove a country from travel quarantine lists is based on infection rates collected by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, it ultimately means that a blanket ban is imposed on a whole destination, including regions barely affected by the virus. .

For example, the UK’s decision to reinstate its mandatory two-week quarantine for arrivals from Spain came after an increase in infections on the continent.

However, the autonomously governed Canary Islands, which rely heavily on tourism, have a much lower infection rate.

Madeira, an autonomous region in Portugal with just over 100 infections reported at the time of writing, has also fallen victim to this holistic approach.

This has proven to be a source of frustration for both potential travelers and those in the travel and tourism industry.

While Charles understands this discontent, he says applying different restrictions to different parts of a country, which Norway has chosen to do for parts of Denmark, Sweden and Spain, can be confusing. for travelers.

“If governments take the route of regional corridors or island approaches only, I think that could add more confusion,” he adds. “Because then they have to produce a lot more lists where you can and can’t go. ”

He thinks the solution is very simple: more effective COVID-19 tests.

Charles argues that travelers should take at least two tests. The first being when they arrive at the airport and the second several days later.

“Governments need to invest more in testing,” he says. “It is cheaper for them to invest more in testing than it is to suffer the huge financial decline in the impact of quarantine measures on an economy.

“When you quarantine the vast majority of healthy people, it drastically affects productivity.

“This affects the recovery and further hurts the economy as a whole. “

Double test

He cites Iceland as an example of a European destination that’s right when it comes to testing.

The Nordic island nation has just introduced a double-test procedure in which travelers undergo two tests at a cost of around $ 65, a fee offered by at least one Icelandic travel agency.

The first test is carried out on arrival at the airport. If it is negative, the visitor must still self-isolate for five to six days, before taking a second test. If this result is also negative, they are given the green light to move freely in the country.

However, if the test comes back positive, they should continue to self-isolate.

Aviation services company Collinson and logistics company Swissport recently proposed a similar system for London’s Heathrow Airport that would make 13,000 COVID-19 tests available to passengers every day, with results “within hours”.

Unlike other European countries such as Germany and Austria, the UK does not currently test visitors on arrival.

The proposed program, aimed at travelers from countries deemed “at high risk”, would require newcomers to take a second test at home.

Those who pass both will be granted an early exemption from the 14-day quarantine.

“The tests will not only avoid the ‘quarantine roulette’ that so many passengers have faced in Spain and France, it will also open flights to key trading partners such as the United States, Canada and Singapore. Heathrow Managing Director John Holland-Kaye said. A declaration.

“The government’s own research shows that a double test has a high level of accuracy in screening for COVID-19.

“This facility is a ready-to-go opportunity to see how Britain can safely reopen, as other countries are doing. ”

A potential ray of sunshine for UK travelers and the European tourism industry was the UK’s recent move to lift restrictions on arrivals from Portugal, essentially opening a new travel window.

The decision was welcomed by the Portuguese National Tourist Board, which issued a statement saying that the decision “reflects the reality of the situation in Portugal much better”.

It remains to be seen whether this will create a resurgence in travel between the two countries. As travelers struggle to follow the changing rules – the UK has since added Cuba to its ‘safe’ list – many are growing increasingly frustrated and confused. Few are willing to bet on the possibility of spending 14 days in quarantine.

“The problem is that quarantine measures kill travel and effectively signal consumers that borders are closed,” adds Charles.

“No business or leisure traveler will choose to go to a place where they will have to quarantine themselves for 14 days before they can do anything.

“The only alternative is the test, to allow people to move freely in a country. “

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