From Iceland to Bulgaria, here's how COVID-19 is impacting European countries.
[Editor’s note: This is an updated version of an earlier article that originally ran on March 4.]
Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is now approved in several countries and the U.S. is on the verge of approving the Moderna vaccine. This brings hope that the acute phase of the pandemic might end in 2021. However, major questions still need to be answered about the vaccines’ ability to prevent transmission of the virus, how long immunity will last, and about ensuring equitable vaccine distribution to every country in the world. Health experts remind that it will take months for general populations to start getting their vaccinations and for “herd immunity” to allow a return to normal life. Global economic recovery and normal life can’t resume until every country—rich or poor—has achieved herd immunity. Aid agencies sounded the alarm bell that, unless action is taken soon, developing countries might not be able to immunize their populations until 2024. Physical distancing, masks, and other restrictions and cautions must continue, particularly over the Christmas holiday period when families and friends traditionally gather. In Europe, many countries are again strengthening their restrictions as cases are rising. November 8 was the height of Europe’s new daily infections at 341,142 new cases. Worldwide, there were one million cases on April 2, and by 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, 30 million on September 17, 40 million on October 19, 50 million on November 8, 60 million on November 25, and 70 million on December 9. Fifteen countries have more than one million cases.
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As of December 18, according to Worldometers, the world has 75,475,751 confirmed cases, 1,672,090 deaths, and at least 53,021,043 people recovered. The highest cases numbers are in the U.S. (17,638,215 cases, 318,067 deaths), India (9,987,949 cases, 144,914 deaths), Brazil (7,111,527 cases, 184,876 deaths), Russia (2,791,220 cases, 49,762 deaths), France (2,427,316 cases, 59,619 deaths), Turkey (1,955,680 cases, 17,364 deaths), the U.K. (1,948,660 cases, 66,052 deaths), Italy (1,906,377 cases, 67,220 deaths), Spain (1,805,633 cases, 48,777 deaths), and Argentina (1,524,372 cases, 41,534 deaths).
Rising case numbers in Spain, France, Italy, and the U.K. had these countries climbing higher on the top ten list in October and November. In early December, Turkey joined the nations with the highest case numbers after changing the way it reported asymptomatic cases and adding historical data to its totals. 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?
The E.U. opened to travelers beyond its borders on July 1, but the U.S. is not yet one of the countries allowed to visit. Each E.U. country can decide its border control measures, although the E.U. prefers similarities across the Union. Several E.U. countries are advising their citizens not to travel even within the E.U. 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?
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.
Concerns about COVID transmission over the holiday period has many European governments changing the restrictions in place they’d previously announced for late December and early January. The WHO’s Europe director pleaded for caution and, in a December 18 statement, said “there remains a difference between what you are being permitted to do by your authorities and what you should do.” He stressed the importance of acting “with a spirit of shared humanity to protect those in need” and highlighted the psychological effects of the pandemic and said there is “a growing mental health crisis in Europe.”
Western Europe’s success in steadily decreasing their daily new case numbers started reversing in mid-December. In some countries, cases are leveling off but above desired levels. In other countries, infections are starting to rise again and some are reaching record highs in new daily cases or in deaths. The Netherlands, in the early days of a five-week lockdown, has a record high in new case numbers, as do Denmark and Sweden. Both Germany and Turkey have record highs of deaths per day.
The E.U. is expected to announce approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on December 21 or 23 and vaccinations across the E.U are expected to begin December 27. About 140,000 people in the U.K. have received their first dose of the vaccine. In a December 18 address to the German parliament, the head of the United Nations praised Germany for its role in creating the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, emphasized the importance of ensuring vaccines are “a public good—accessible and affordable to everyone, everywhere,” and discussed combating misinformation and denial of science perpetuated by populism.
A member of the U.K.’s scientific advisory group for emergencies said December 18 that the tiered risk system is not as effective as it needs to be and hinted that new measures will be put in place shortly after the holiday period which may last until February. Additional regions in England are entering tier-three lockdown conditions this week, which means two-thirds of England’s population is at tier three and the remaining third at tier two, with the exception of about one million people at tier one. At tier three, hotels are closed and restaurants can offer only take-out. Although Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the U.K. would have the same Christmas restrictions in all four countries, Scotland and Wales are imposing stricter measures in response to health officials’ concerns that allowing three families to gather together over the holidays would cause cases to skyrocket. Wales plans a late December lockdown and Northern Ireland will start a six-week lockdown on December 26.
Ireland, which has Europe’s second-lowest infection rate (after Iceland), has cases rising again after the end of its October lockdown. Domestic travel restrictions were due to be lifted on December 18, but stricter restrictions are instead expected due to the “explosive concoction” of factors leading to a surge of new infections.
France’s cases have been declining but are again at highs not seen since November 21. France’s strict lockdown is over, replaced with an 8 p.m. curfew and the closure of restaurants. On December 18, a French government scientist said that France is unlikely to return to normal life before autumn 2021.
Many in Italy are calling for increased restrictions with a public health professor saying on December 16 “we are in a war situation, people don’t realize it but the last time we had this many deaths, bombs were dropping on our cities during the war.”
Portugal is reversing its decision to allow New Year’s Eve celebrations and is implementing a new 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew beginning December 31 and ending January 3. Officials said they will not implement a domestic travel ban or limit the number of people allowed to gather between December 23 and 26, but did remind the Portuguese to use masks and choose well-ventilated places if they gather together.
Greece is strengthening restrictions in Athens including a 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew and officials warned December 18 that strengthened lockdown measures are likely. Bulgaria is maintaining the closure of restaurants and shopping malls until the end of January, although they were originally due to reopen on December 21. Denmark is closing malls and, as of December 25, all nonessential stores will be closed. Switzerland announced on December 18 that, as of December 22, restaurants and recreation centers must close for a month. There are rumors Austria will begin a third national lockdown shortly after Christmas expected to last until January 18, and that Austrians who test negative for COVID will be able to leave the lockdown earlier. Sweden is closing nonessential workplaces.
From December 28 to January 17, Poland will be in “national quarantine” which includes the closure of all hotels and ski resorts. Croatia is banning domestic travel between December 23 and January 8, meaning residents are not allowed to leave the county they live in. Croatia’s partial lockdown already has restaurants and sports facilities closed.
Looking ahead to 2021, the Berlin International Film Festival is postponed. Originally scheduled for February, there will now be an online portion of the festival in March and an in-person event in June.
The most recent change to England’s “travel corridors” list of countries exempt from mandatory quarantine was announced on December 17 and goes into effect on December 19: Namibia, Uruguay, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are removed from the exempt list. As of December 15, people arriving in England from countries not on the exempt list can shorten their quarantine period to five days if they test negative on the fifth day after their arrival. As of December 14, the general self-isolation/quarantine period shortened from 14 to 10 days. This applies throughout the U.K. to anyone in contact with a positive COVID case, including all travelers not on the exempt list. See below for details on how the list has evolved.
The EU’s “green list” of non-European countries allowed into the continent was last updated on October 22. Singapore is the first country to be added to the list since it was created in July. Three countries—Canada, Tunisia, and Georgia—were removed. Before this, the most recent change to the list was in August. The E.U. recommends that member states abide by the same travel rules, but individual nations have the choice of who they allow within their borders. Originally at 14 countries, the EU’s green list now has eight: Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Uruguay, in addition to China if reciprocity is confirmed. There are no plans to add the U.K. to the exempt list when the Brexit transition period ends December 31, 2020.
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 continue to advise against all travel for the holidays) 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. An article by El Pais summarizes other studies and explains the risks of aerosols in spreading the virus. If you’re not already converted, it will make you want to don a mask and open windows whenever you’re around people outside of your immediate household.
As of December 18, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reports 15,130,100 COVID-19 cases and 375,930 deaths in the EU/EEA, the U.K., Monaco, San Marino, and Switzerland.
A December study puts COVID’s presence in Europe weeks earlier than previously thought. Europe’s first official case was in France on January 24, 2020, although a May study showed that a Paris patient likely had COVID-19 in late December. Italy’s first officially recorded case was January 30, 2020, and a June wastewater study showed that the virus was in both Milan and Turin on December 18, 2019. The latest study shows that COVID-19 was in Italy on November 30, 2019, and perhaps even earlier. The study’s conclusions are based on the retroactive analysis of a swab taken from a four-year-old child in Milan whose respiratory and other symptoms began November 21, 2019. The child had not traveled and doctors initially thought he had measles.
An October study showed that the COVID mutation known as 20A.EU1 is the most prevalent strain in most European countries. The mutation was first seen in June amongst farm workers in Spain. Experts speculate that people returning from vacations in Spain were the cause of its rapid spread around Europe. This is prompting questions of whether travel restrictions and airport screening could have prevented the rise in infection rates and what can be done to prevent another recurrence.
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.
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.
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.
Cyprus was the first country to announce how vaccines will affect travel across its borders. As of March 1, 2021, travelers to Cyprus with proof of vaccination will be exempt from showing proof of a negative PCR test.
Many European countries—including Germany, Ireland, Latvia, and Spain—enabled their contact tracing apps to be effective across Europe’s borders.
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 was once the European country most affected by COVID-19. While Italy controlled its cases well enough to move out of the top 10 worst-affected nations, climbing cases in October and November pushed the country back into the tenth spot on November 10 and then to ninth. It’s now at eighth. Italy passed the million case mark on November 11 and again became the country with Europe’s highest death toll on December 12, when it reached 64,036 deaths, surpassing the U.K.’s 64,026. The U.K. has had the highest number since May 6. As of December 17, Italy has 1,906,377 cases and 67,220 deaths. While new cases have been declining since the mid-November high of 35,000, they started to rise above 16,000 again in mid-December. Italy had about 2,500 daily cases in early October.
Italy’s first two cases were reported on January 30 and the first death was February 22. However, on June 19, a study of wastewater in northern Italy showed that COVID-19 was in both Milan and Turin on December 18 and a December 2020 study showed the virus was present in a November 30, 2019 swab taken from a child with respiratory symptoms that began November 21, 2019. 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 was 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.
Italy banned regional travel over the Christmas holiday period due to record highs in daily COVID deaths. Between December 20 and January 6, travel between regions is only allowed for medical purposes, work, or emergencies. From December 25 to 26 and on January 1, Italians are not allowed to leave their municipality, even if it means a short walk to neighbors. At the Vatican, Christmas Eve Mass will still go ahead but will begin two hours earlier than usual to ensure attendees can be home by Italy’s 10 p.m. curfew. Public participation in all Vatican Christmas events is limited.
Cross-border train service between Italy and Switzerland was suspended as of December 10, including some German itineraries such as the train between Milan and Frankfurt. If train staff can implement Italy’s required COVID safety measures, such as temperature checks, the service may be resumed.
Italy’s second state of emergency, originally set to end in October, was extended to January 31. The country now has a three-tier risk-based system, with each of Italy’s 20 regions assigned a risk color—red, orange, or yellow. Italy downgraded the risk-rating of several regions on November 29 and began easing COVID restrictions. National restrictions include a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew and the 6 p.m. closure of restaurants and bars. People in “red zones” are only able to leave their homes for work or health reasons, and all restaurants, bars, and nonessential shops are closed. Few people are allowed to travel into and out of affected towns, cities, and red zone regions.
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 the immediate household.
Many tourist sites closed from November 5 to December 3, and few have announced reopening dates. Rome’s Colosseum plans to reopen on January 15 and the Leaning Tower of Pisa has not yet announced reopening information. On July 2, Italy announced the World Alpine Championships should take place as scheduled in Cortina d’Ampezzo in February 2021 and so far that has not changed.
After the initial spring lockdown, Italy reopened for both domestic travel and travel from the EU and Schengen countries on June 3. Despite the EU’s green list of (originally) 14 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. Travelers from orange list countries are subject to a mandatory swab test on arrival. Italy updates its red and orange lists regularly, but news reports often announce changes before the Italian government website is updated. 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.
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 first 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.
As of December 17, France has a total of 2,427,316 cases and 59,619 deaths. France’s cases are rising again as of mid-December, to almost 20,000, though they had been below 15,000 for the previous few weeks. France reached highs in the 60,000 range in the autumn. In the tenth spot in mid-October, France moved into the fifth spot in late October. In November, France and Russia fluctuated between the fourth- and fifth-highest case count, and France remains at fifth.
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.
France has not yet been able to reach its target of fewer than 3,000 patients in intensive care and a maximum of 5,000 new daily cases. France’s month-long lockdown, begun October 30, was extended to December 15, although restrictions started easing on November 27. The stay-at-home lockdown restrictions were lifted on December 15, replaced with an 8 p.m. curfew. The curfew will be later for Christmas Eve but not for New Year’s Eve.
As of July 20, masks are mandatory in indoor public areas in France, including on public transportation. Masks outdoors are mandatory in some cities. There’s a fine of 135 euros for non-compliance.
France closed its borders to non-E.U. citizens on October 30, after adjusting 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.
To facilitate travel and in response to pressure from airlines, France planned to have rapid COVD testing at some airports in place by the end of October, delayed due to the country’s second lockdown. The first departing flights to have the testing were those to the U.S. and Italy and the first arriving flights were those on France’s red list.
France’s tourist sites closed again as of October 30; some have announced tentative reopening dates of January 6, 2021. In the spring, the Eiffel Tower reopened earlier than originally expected, on June 25. Disneyland Paris first reopened on July 15. When it reopens again advance registration will continue to be required to ensure entrance due to limited capacity. The Paris air show, scheduled for June 2021, was officially canceled on December 7 due to the economic consequences of the pandemic on the aerospace industry.
France’s new COVID classification system was announced on September 23 and the country declared a new public health state of emergency on October 14, calling COVID-19 a public health disaster. The president wants to reduce the daily number of new cases—which rose past 41,000 on October 22—to between 3,000 and 5,000. The four-week curfew beginning October 18 that restricts residents to their homes between 9 p.m. and 6 p.m was expanded from nine major cities to two-thirds of France’s population on October 22.
Under France’s first 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’s coronavirus cases are at 1,451,382 as of December 18, with 25,482 deaths. 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, was due to imposing a “very early” lockdown, as reported by The Guardian. However, Germany has had difficulty with high case and death numbers during its second wave.
After its “lockdown light” was not effective in bringing case numbers and hospitalizations down, Germany began a stricter lockdown on December 16. Bars and restaurants remain closed, although takeout remains allowed. Nonessential shops must close for the next four weeks. Hotels are advised not to host tourists and nonessential travel is discouraged. Christmas markets and carnivals, as well as outdoor New Year’s Eve celebrations, are canceled. Social gatherings are limited to five people from no more than two households. In mid-October, Germany introduced 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.
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.
Museums, restaurants, and some shops are closed again due to the November 2 lockdown. While hotels are allowed to remain open, they’re discouraged from hosting tourists. Hotels in some regions continue to 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 first shutdown began on 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.”
As of December 17, the U.K. has 1,948,660 cases and 66,052 COVID-19 deaths. Daily case counts have been as high as 33,470 (the record on November 12) up from 3,400 in September. As of May 6, the U.K. had Europe’s highest number of COVID deaths, but Italy regained that status on December 12. The U.K. moved back onto the list of ten countries with the highest COVID cases in late October at the ninth spot and is now at seventh. 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. was the first to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine and the U.K.’s most vulnerable citizens began receiving their first dose on December 8, 2020.
The four U.K. nations aimed to have a common approach for domestic travel between them for the Christmas holidays, but Scotland and Wales reversed the decision to have stricter measures in response to concerns from health experts. For a five-day period between December 23 and 27 in England, a maximum of three households will be allowed to gather together. Northern Ireland will start a six-week lockdown on December 26.
As of October 14, England uses a risk-based, three-tiered system of restrictions, which was temporarily removed during the November 5 to December 2 national lockdown. As of mid-December, about two-thirds of England’s population is in tier-three conditions and one third at tier two, with the exception of about one million people at tier one. At tier three, hotels are closed and restaurants can offer only take-out.
The new year will bring a major travel change for the U.K. When the Brexit transition period ends December 31, travelers from the U.K. will no longer fall under the European Union’s rules. The E.U. allows nonessential travel from only eight countries and the U.K. will no longer be exempt. That means only essential travel from the U.K. to E.U. countries will be allowed starting January 1, 2021.
The U.K.’s borders are open, however, as of June 8, there’s a mandatory quarantine period for some new arrivals. Originally at 14 days, it was reduced to ten days as of December 14. Each of the four U.K. nations has a green list of countries exempt from quarantine. As of December 15, travelers to England subject to the mandatory quarantine can choose to take a COVID test on day five after arriving and, if they test negative, can skip the remainder of the quarantine.
The latest change to England’s green “travel corridor” list (destinations from which returning travelers are exempt from quarantine) goes into effect on December 19: travelers from Namibia, Uruguay, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are removed from the list and no longer exempt from quarantine.
The list is updated almost weekly; past changes are as follows. As of December 12, Botswana and Saudia Arabia are added to the exempt list, and Spain’s Canary Islands were removed. As of November 28, Aruba, Bhutan, Mongolia, the Pacific Islands, and Timor-Leste were added to the exempt list, and Estonia and Latvia were removed. Effective November 21 (and, unusually, with the announcement saying the changes also apply to Northern Ireland and Wales), added to the green list were the Caribbean islands of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, Israel and Jerusalem, Namibia, Northern Mariana Islands, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Uruguay, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Effective November 14, eight countries were added: Bahrain, Cambodia, Chile, Iceland, Laos, Qatar, UAE, and Turks and Caicos. Except for a few islands (Corfu, Crete, Kos, Rhodes, and Zakynthos), Greece was removed from the list. Announced November 6 and, unusually, in effect the same day— Denmark was removed from the green list due to the new COVID mutation that 12 people have been infected with via minks; as well almost all travel from Denmark is banned completely. As of November 7, Germany and Sweden were removed from the list and those travelers now subject to quarantine. Cyprus and Lithuania were removed from the list effective November 1.
In October, the Canary Islands, Denmark, the Maldives, and Greece’s Mykonos were added to the green list effective October 25 and Liechtenstein was removed. Effective October 18, the Greek island of Crete was added to the list. Italy and the two microstates within it—San Marino and Vatican City State—were removed from the green list. 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.
Though initially excluded from the U.S.-Europe travel ban, both the U.K. and Ireland were included as of March 14.
Spain was Europe’s most coronavirus-affected country as of early April until Russia (in the summer) and France (in October) surpassed Spain. In early December, Spain returned to the status as the world’s ninth most-affected country, due to both Spain’s ability to reduce its transmission rates and the challenges in other parts of western Europe. Spain’s state of emergency was extended another six months until May 9, 2021.
As of December 17, Spain has 1,805,633 cases and 48,777 deaths. Spain crossed the 20,000 new daily case count mark on October 22 but the infection rate began dropping as of mid-November. It was under 5,000 cases per day but as of mid-December is around 10,000. Spain changed its methodology for COVID statistics on November 4, resulting in an overnight increase of 25,000 cases and 1,600 deaths. 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.
As of November 23, PCR tests taken a maximum of 72 hours prior to arrival are mandatory for anyone arriving in Spain from high-risk countries. Risk is defined using the E.U.’s risk measures: high-risk “red” countries have at least 50 or more new cases per 100,000 in the population over the past two weeks and a test positivity rate of 4% or higher. Certification can be in Spanish or English, paper or electronic. Anyone suspected of having COVID will receive a test at the airport.
Spain has a nationwide curfew, beginning at either 10 p.m. or midnight, depending on the region. The curfew will be lighter on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Several Spanish regions ban nonessential travel in and out of their regional and sometimes municipal borders. From December 23 to January 6, domestic travel to visit family will be allowed, with the health minister saying “we trust in the responsible attitude of Spaniards” but warns “we’re risking a lot this month.”
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.
Beginning in mid-July, Spain’s new case 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 on 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 first state of emergency was 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
Turkey initially reported only symptomatic COVID cases, but as of November 25 began reporting all COVID cases. On December 10, Turkey added all its historical cases to the official count, which put the country at the eighth-highest case count in the world. In early December, Turkey had multiple days of record-setting numbers of daily COVID deaths. Weekend lockdowns began December 4 with weekday curfews already in effect. Popular sites like Turkish baths are closed and access to large indoor spaces such as shopping malls requires a contact-tracing code.
After reaching a new record high of 2,132 daily cases on December 10, Denmark is strengthening its lockdown restrictions. About 80% of the Danish population and 69 municipalities will be affected as of December 11.
Belarus is closing its land, rail, and river borders as of December 20. Most border closures only affect people wanting to enter the country, however in this case Belarus citizens and foreigners with temporary or permanent residency will not be allowed to leave as of that date, The Guardian reported. There are exceptions for diplomats, for Belarus citizens who hold residency status in another country, or if a close relative has a serious illness or dies. Minsk airport will remain open. While officially attributed to COVID, some say the restrictions are in response to political dissent against the government. The E.U. imposed sanctions on Belarus over concerns about the August presidential elections and police violence against protestors and many western nations have not accepted the results of the election as legitimate.
The U.K. approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on December 2 using their expedited emergency approval process; it’s the first vaccine to be approved in a western country. This vaccine is a new kind, called messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine. It can be manufactured faster and less expensively than regular vaccines because it contains the genetic code of the virus, rather than weakened forms of the virus itself as is the case with most vaccines. According to clinical trials, two doses protect from illness in 95% of cases. However, it’s not yet known how the vaccine affects COVID-19’s infectiousness. The storage needs of mRNA vaccines are also unique—it needs to be transported at extremely cold temperatures which makes distribution to remote areas and developing countries difficult.
The U.K. plans to vaccinate five million people in December. Doses for another 15 million U.K. residents are expected in early 2021. In the first few days after the vaccine’s approval, the U.K. changed its rollout plan. Initially, the first to get the vaccine was to be people who live in care homes, their caregivers, frontline medical staff, and people over the age of 80. Announced November 3, medical staff are no longer in the very first tier. Staff of care homes, “hospital inpatients and outpatients aged over 80” will now be first, The Guardian reported, because of an anticipated new spike in hospitalizations due to infections spread over the Christmas holiday period.
The U.K. has no plans for a “vaccine passport,” the health minister said December 2. He also reminded people that it is still far too early to reduce precautions to prevent contracting COVID-19. The U.K.’s new vaccine minister said on November 30 that he anticipates some businesses might require COVID vaccination to enter their premises to help protect other customers and staff from the highly-infectious disease.
The first airline, Qantas, has already said vaccination will eventually be required for its international passengers. However, on December 3, Airports Council International expressed concern over such a requirement, especially over the first part of 2021 when vaccines won’t be widely available.
Cyprus announced a measure that will allow travelers who can prove they’ve been vaccinated to skip the otherwise mandatory proof of a negative PCR test. It will come into force as of March 1, 2021. It’s assumed it means the passenger needs to have had both doses for the vaccines that require two, but there’s no word if a certain time period must have passed to allow the individual to build antibodies.
The WHO said on December 3 that it does not recommend countries issue “immunity passports” and reiterated the limitations of using testing to facilitate travel. The WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe, Catherine Smallwood, reminded that rapid antigen tests are less appropriate for enabling travel because they are less accurate than PCR tests and could allow people to slip through the cracks, The Guardian reported. The WHO is instead looking at e-certificates showing vaccination status to facilitate travel, and, with Estonia, is piloting a “smart yellow card” digital vaccine certificate (named for the yellow paper card showing yellow fever vaccination that is required by many countries). CommonPass—created by the World Economic Forum and The Commons Project Foundation—is already being successfully piloted internationally showing accurate COVID test status and is able to add vaccination status to its platform.
The WHO and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are speaking about the need to avoid vaccine nationalism, where rich countries buy up all the supplies of COVID vaccine. Describing the Foundation’s report, The Guardian said December 3 that “rich nations stand to lose hundreds of billions of dollars in economic output over the next five years if poorer countries do not get equal access to COVID-19 vaccines.” The report assessed the benefits of providing equal vaccine access globally for ten major economies: Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Qatar, South Korea, Sweden, United Arab Emirates, the U.K., and the U.S. The WHO said that equitable vaccine access provides social, economic, and political benefits for all countries. A researcher at the Duke Global Health Institute, Andrea Taylor, said on December 3 that “it is in the best interests of wealthy nations to invest in equity and it will cost all of us more if we don’t, both in terms of mortality and GDP.”
Is vaccine tourism the next big thing? The Guardian reported that requests are coming to Indian travel agents for quick trips to the U.K. to get vaccinated with queries as to whether travelers coming solely for vaccination purposes would be exempt from the mandatory quarantine period. There is no reason to think that the U.K. would open up its vaccine supply to directly vaccinate non-citizens/residents, as opposed to sending additional supply to other countries.
Several countries are evaluating the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and other vaccine candidates. Germany said on December 2 that vaccines will be evaluated through their regular approval processes and that they would not use expedited emergency approvals. The Guardian reported that the E.U.’s regulatory agency, the European Medicines Agency, suggested that the U.K. “prioritized speed over winning public confidence” with their expedited emergency approval (a statement in itself which influences public confidence in vaccines). The German health minister also took the opportunity to remind the U.K. that, despite Brexit, the U.K.’s quick approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine shows that “in this crisis European and international cooperation are best.”
While the U.K.’s vaccine approval is good news, normal life cannot resume until a large portion of the population is vaccinated and has had time to build antibodies. Experts say the general populations of most western countries should expect to receive their first dose of vaccine by spring, at the earliest.
Broader Europe (beyond the E.U.) passed the 400,000 death mark, with Italy and France joining the list of countries that have had more than 50,000 deaths. Germany reported its highest daily death numbers on December 2 and Italy did the same on December 3. New case numbers, however, are starting to stabilize in western Europe, with lockdowns and other restrictions starting to ease there. The European Commission urged countries to continue physical distancing and mask-wearing measures, consider banning mass gatherings, and encourage self-quarantine for at least seven days before mixing households over the Christmas holidays.
European governments are outlining plans for the holiday period, trying to balance allowing families to get together but avoid sparking another wave of high infection rates. Italy announced December 2 that Italians will not be able to travel between regions from December 21 to January 6 nor between towns (even if it’s walking distance) December 25 to 26 and January 1, except in cases of emergency. A new regulation will mandate a 10-day quarantine for anyone entering Italy’s borders beginning December 20. Germany extended its “lockdown light”—originally scheduled to end December 20—until January 10. This includes the closure of hotels and restaurants. Spain is banning travel between regions from December 23 to January 6. Residents of the U.K. will be allowed to travel, including between all four U.K. nations, only between December 23 and 27 and with a maximum of three households allowed to gather together.
Several countries want alpine nations to take a coordinated approach to ski holidays, and the WHO is recommending a cautious and risk-based approach. Germany is leading a campaign, joined by France and Italy, to ban ski holidays until at least January. One of Europe’s earliest COVID outbreaks began in the Austrian ski resort Ischgl, but Austria did not agree to a complete Christmas ban. Instead, Austria said on December 2 that it will limit lift capacity, keep most hotels and restaurants closed, and will require many people entering Austria to quarantine. Switzerland and Spain also plan their ski resorts to operate over the holidays. France announced random checks at its border to prevent French residents from risking COVID transmission by traveling to and from ski resorts, particularly in Switzerland and Spain.
The Guardian reported that Airbnb is trying to limit illegal New Year’s Eve parties at its accommodations. In Britain, France, Spain, as well as in Australia, Canada, Mexico, and the U.S., travelers who do not have positive reviews will not be able to book one-night stays for December 31. Anyone staying at an Airbnb property on New Year’s Eve must pledge they won’t host a party and that they’re aware of potential legal charges if they do.
The WHO’s Europe director said on November 19 that “Europe is once again the epicenter of the pandemic, together with the United States.” As November ended, Europe continued its efforts to bring infection rates down to controllable levels. Some countries show early signs that their lockdowns and enhanced restrictions are working, however hospitalization and death rates are still high. Hans Kluge also said that one person in Europe dies from COVID-19 every 17 seconds. Though there is good news about potential vaccines, another WHO official, Michael Ryan, warned “I think it’s at least four to six months before we have significant levels of vaccination going on anywhere.”
Noting the “significant collateral damage” of lockdowns—such as increased domestic violence, mental health problems, and substance abuse—Kluge also reiterated that the WHO’s position is that lockdowns should be a last resort. He added that if 95% of people wear masks, there should be no need for lockdowns. The Guardian also reported his concerns about lifting lockdowns too quickly.
Restrictions are starting to lift in some parts of Europe. England’s four-week stay-at-home lockdown ended December 2 (not the original November 30), with a return to the three-tiered, risk-based restrictions for specific regions. Italy downgraded the risk-rating of several regions on November 29 and began easing COVID restrictions. France began a three-stage easing of its month-long lockdown on November 27. If infection rates drop and remain at about 5,000 per day, the lockdown will end on December 15. While regional travel will be able to resume, French citizens are advised against unnecessary travel. Restaurants and bars in France are not expected to reopen until January 20.
European countries began announcing the lightening of COVID restrictions for the Christmas holiday period, with the WHO saying that avoiding gatherings outside your immediate household is the “safest bet.” Most European governments are requesting citizens reduce or completely refrain from travel over the Christmas period. In the U.K., travel restrictions between England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will be reduced to allow family gatherings for a five-day period over Christmas.
Airlines are beginning pilot projects to reduce or eliminate the need to quarantine. For example, British Airways and American Airlines are partnering in a voluntary program for flights to London Heathrow from Dallas, Los Angeles, and New York. As of November 25, participating passengers receive a COVID test 72 hours prior to departure, another on arrival at Heathrow, and a third test three days later. Starting December 19, Delta Air Lines will have a similar three-test system for flights between Atlanta and Rome. If passengers test negative for COVID via a PCR test 72 hours prior to departure, a rapid test before boarding, and another rapid test in Rome, they can skip Italy’s 14-day quarantine.
Finland and Norway are two exceptions to the general trend in Europe, and the two have the western world’s lowest COVID mortality rates. The Wall Street Journal’s Bojan Pancevski published a piece explaining how the two nordic countries kept their case counts low, avoided a second wave, and kept their economies and societies open. Both countries had lockdowns in the March to May period but did not have to reinstate them as most European neighbors did. According to Pancevski, the key to success was trust and the Norse tradition of “dugnad”—communal work to accomplish a task in solidarity with others. Also important were strict border controls and governments’ recommendations—and citizens heeding the advice—to avoid unnecessary travel. In Finland, for example, air travel dropped by 95% and this summer 94% of Finns chose domestic rather than international vacations. However, the two countries still face restrictions to keep their COVID rates under control. On November 20, public gatherings in Helsinki larger than 20 people were banned.
In November, lockdowns were strengthened and extended in much of Europe in response to what the WHO called exploding infection rates. “We do see an explosion … in the sense that it only takes a couple of days to have, over the European region, an increase of one million cases,” said the WHO’s Europe director. Hans Luge also called for more people to practice two simple behaviors: “with general mask wearing and strict control of social gatherings, we can save 266,000 lives by February in the whole European region.”
The first half of November saw countries like Croatia, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, and the U.K. continuing to break their previously set records of daily new infections. A few countries report their tight restrictions seem to be reducing their rates of new infections, with Ireland predicting some restrictions could be lifted in December. While many countries are hoping to ease some restrictions before Christmas, officials warned that COVID protection measures will need to continue through the winter.
On November 12, France extended its month-long lockdown for at least another two weeks. More of Italy’s regions were designated as red. Portugal entered a new state of emergency from November 9 to at least November 23 and expanded the number of areas under curfew (weekdays from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. and weekends from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.). Four days after implementing its second lockdown, Greece extended its 9-p.m.-to-5-a.m. nationwide curfew. Slovakia extended its state of emergency until the end of 2020. Cyprus implemented a partial lockdown which includes a ban on travel in and out of the cities of Limassol and Paphos.
French and German officials said there is hope for the Christmas retail season and keeping shops open if people follow the health guidelines, but cautioned against parties and large family get-togethers. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on November 12 “we all have to be sensible, we have to get down to 50 cases per 100,000 people over seven days.”
Greece’s new three-week national lockdown went into effect on November 7, including school closures for older students. Cyprus has a new curfew until at least November 30. The Netherlands tightened restrictions, closing popular tourist destinations like the Rijksmuseum and other leisure sites for two weeks. The Dutch government also recommended its citizens postpone all international travel until mid-January at the earliest. Hungary implemented a curfew and closed all bars and entertainment venues. Lithuania began a three-week lockdown on November 7. Romania’s curfew began November 9 and includes closing schools—a move most countries are doing everything to avoid.
All visitors to Norway must now have a negative COVID test to enter the country, even from within the E.U. Norway’s prime minister said November 5 that losing control of the virus within the country is possible as she implemented new restrictions including recommending against all nonessential travel, both domestic and international. She asked residents to “stay at home as much as possible” to prevent new lockdown orders. Oslo started a “social lockdown” closing theaters and other leisure centers and prohibiting the sale of alcohol in bars and restaurants.
The EU president said on October 29 that “the spread of the virus will overwhelm our healthcare system if we do not act urgently.” She announced that the E.U. agreed to fund the transfer of patients within the borders of its 27 member states so as to prevent the collapse of hospitals. European governments have been saying for weeks that they were trying to avoid lockdowns, despite the warnings of epidemiologists that COVID outbreaks were out of control. Record levels of new cases and overwhelmed hospitals have prompted many to implement lockdowns and strengthened measures. Some citizens are responding with relief, while others are complaining and protesting, sometimes violently.
In Denmark, the COVID virus has mutated significantly, bringing fears of new infections and whether an eventual vaccine can protect the world. A new strain of the virus was found in mink at a Danish farm and a dozen people are infected. A new lockdown is in place in parts of northern Denmark including the recommendation that people not travel into or out of the affected region. Denmark plans to cull 15 million mink to prevent further infection.
Some are protesting in response to the new restrictions, not believing scientists and thinking their personal freedoms and convenience should outweigh the good of society and the lives of vulnerable people. Students in many parts of France, however, are protesting for greater COVID protection measures in schools.
Ireland is one of the few European countries with a decreasing infection rate, thanks to some of Europe’s strictest COVID rules. Officials said on November 5 that Ireland’s R number is below 1 and the country is therefore on track for those restrictions to be relaxed at the beginning of December. Ireland has a six-week lockdown which includes no travel over five kilometers (three miles) from home and no visiting other households.
There’s also some good news out of Finland. AFP reports research from the European Parliament that shows almost a quarter of Finnish respondents in their survey said lockdowns have improved their lives. A Helsinki University professor said it’s likely because Finnish society is highly digitized, so it was quite easy for Finns to adapt to working from home. Finland’s infection rate is five times lower than the E.U.’s average and the country has only a couple hundred new COVID cases per day, for a total of 17,000 cases and 360 deaths. Finnish citizens reportedly followed COVID rules with little complaint and the economic consequences of the pandemic have been less than in neighboring countries.
However, there are new international border restrictions, in addition to the domestic border rules described above. Borders in Belarus closed again, including to Belarisuan citizens who want to return home from any country except Russia. Norway tightened restrictions limiting foreign workers from entering its borders.
China is reimposing some border restrictions including to many European travelers. Several Chinese embassies around the world put notices on their websites on November 5 announcing travel bans. It appears that Chinese nationals are allowed to return to China from the specified countries, but all other travelers (including people with Chinese residency permits) are currently banned from entering China. The affected European countries include the U.K., France, Italy, Belgium, and Russia, as well as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, and the Philippines. China also announced that travelers from some countries will now need to provide both a negative PCR test no older than 48 hours and a positive antibody test to enter China. However, shortly after the news was released, some of the new-test-rules countries appear to be on the travel ban list. The new testing rules seem to apply to travelers from Germany, the Czech Republic, France, Denmark, and, from outside of Europe, the U.S., Australia, Singapore, and Japan.
On other travel news, Greece now requires anyone entering its borders by sea or air to have a negative PCR test taken within 48 of arrival. Germany, despite its partial lockdown, is continuing next week with its pilot project of rapid antigen tests prior to flights. Lufthansa will require a negative COVID test taken within 48 hours of flights between Munich and Hamburg starting November 12.
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 on 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 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.