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Coronavirus: With EU open for travel, who can go where?

  • August 03, 2020

Starting this week, travelers arriving in Germany from so-called “risk areas” will be required to take a coronavirus test — making Germany the first country in the European Union to require mandatory testing.  

As the risk of a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic grows, EU states have been busy preparing their own set of travel rules and restrictions ever since passing a joint resolution on travel within the bloc in mid-June. But with different standards in all 27 member countries, and rules that are constantly subject to change, the list of travel regulations is long and confusing.

Read more: How is coronavirus changing air travel?

For example: Latvia requires Belgian travelers to quarantine for 14 days, whereas Belgium merely recommends the measure for Latvians. On the other hand, Belgium does have strict quarantine rules in place for certain areas in Spain and the UK, namely Leicester.

Each EU member state follows its own definitions and rules: Some make travelers fill out contact forms, while others prefer online registration ahead of time. Still others call for travelers to present proof of a valid negative coronavirus test before entry. The most recent restrictions can be found on the European Commission website Re-Open EU.

How does the EU define COVID-19 risk?

Adding to the confusion is the fact there is no common EU definition of what constitutes a risk area. In Germany, the job of making that determination falls to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). As of July 31, the RKI only lists Luxembourg and parts of Spain as risk areas within the EU. Travelers from those regions will be required to take the coronavirus test when they arrive in Germany starting next week.

Read more: Coronavirus inspires cities to push climate-friendly mobility

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) in Stockholm is attempting to compile an overview of the pandemic to better understand the risk areas. The EU agency collects data from member states and provides daily color-coded maps with detailed information on regional infection rates. Looking at the most recent ECDC map for July 31, it’s clear that the current hot spots are in northeastern Spain, Lisbon, Belgium — Antwerp, in particular — Luxembourg and Sweden, as well as parts of Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia.

Germany plans to keep borders open

Another look at the ECDC map shows that only certain regions are suffering from rising infection rates at the moment, making widespread border closures excessive. The current recommendation is rather to locate and isolate regional coronavirus outbreaks, and track possible chains of infection across international borders.

After the continentwide border closures across the EU in March, April and May, the bloc has planned to use a regional approach in the event of a second wave of infections. Last week, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer announced that Germany had ruled out renewed border closures or a resumption of border controls.

Read more: Lovers press European states for ‘sweetheart’ exemptions

“We had major political problems,” said Seehofer about the total lockdown in the spring, and he wants to avoid those problems in a possible second wave. Disease experts say the greatest risk is not traveling as such, but how carefully people act both at home and abroad.

An infographic showing which countries around the world are part of the EU COVID travel restrictions

The first wave, or the second?

The question of whether the EU is already experiencing a second wave of coronavirus infections is not easily answered. In any case, the ECDC says infection rates are going up — but for now, it’s a far cry from the numbers seen in March and April. Back then, upward of 35,000 infections were being registered each day. Now they are down to around 10,000, with the lowest number — less than 5,000 — coming in late June.

Read more: Coronavirus crisis: EU interpreters left in the lurch

The EU is also doing well when compared with the rest of the world. Globally, some 200,000 people are infected with COVID-19 each day, mostly in the Americas and in Asia. At the moment, the EU accounts for only 5% of infections worldwide.

Those global numbers have led Germany to declare almost anywhere beyond the EU a risk area. Berlin has strongly advised its citizens against traveling to the United States, Brazil, India and South Africa. Those who do face quarantine as well as mandatory coronavirus testing upon their return.

Many EU countries have begun welcoming travelers from places where infections have decreased — countries like Canada, Australia, Uruguay or Thailand, for example. But Austria, Ireland, Hungary, Poland and Belgium have still ruled out any entry from travelers from those countries. Portugal, meanwhile, still allows arrivals from Brazil and the US, but only if they meet certain conditions.

When it comes to compiling a common set of travel rules to deal with the particular challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic, the EU still has a long way to go. All the European Commission can do is keep collecting data and try to foster coordination.

Every 14 days, a committee meets in Brussels to discuss the loosening of travel restrictions on countries like the US, Russia and China. But one European adviser told DW there was little hope for normalization any time soon: “As long as the virus is out there, everything stays shut.”

This is an updated version of a previous article.

  • France Paris Eiffel Tower (picture-alliance/dpa/Mahaux-AGF)

    Paris reawakens — these sights can be visited again

    The Eiffel Tower

    Put on your face mask and off you go! If you want to go up the Parisian landmark, you need to be fit: The elevators aren’t running, so the 765 steps to the second-floor viewing platform have to be climbed on foot. The top of the Eiffel Tower including the restaurant will be closed for the time being. Tickets must be bought online. According to the operator, most reservations are made by Germans.

  • France Paris - Louvre Museum with glass pyramid (picture-alliance/Bildagentur-online/AGF/L. De Simone)

    Paris reawakens — these sights can be visited again

    The Louvre Museum

    The most visited museum in the world has announced its reopening from July 6. Tickets will be sold online, but only a third of the usual number. Visitors must wear face masks and will be guided through the rooms on a predetermined course, which will also pass the “Mona Lisa “painting. Around 90% of the guests are said to come to the Louvre just to see her.

  • Musée d‘ Orsay exterior, Paris (Bertrand GuayAFP/Getty Images)

    Paris reawakens — these sights can be visited again

    Musée d‘ Orsay

    For those who do not want to wait until July 6, there is the Musée d’Orsay. Since June 23, it has been open to the public again, as long as people wear a mask and book an online ticket. The building alone is impressive: a former, palatial railway station built for the 1900 World Fair. In the museum, masterpieces of Impressionists painters from Monet to van Gogh are exhibited.

  • Palace and gardens at Versailles, Paris (picture-alliance/IMAGNO/J. Kräftner)

    Paris reawakens — these sights can be visited again

    Palace of Versailles

    Visitors can also again stroll through the “Sun King” Louis XIV’s magnificent chambers, of course only with an online ticket and a facemask. And there is a lot to see: 1,800 rooms and 288 apartments — the royal family resided in 152 rooms alone. By the way, admission to the extensive gardens of Versailles Palace is free.

  • France, Paris - Paris - Fondation Louis Vuitton (picture-alliance/T. Muncke)

    Paris reawakens — these sights can be visited again

    Fondation Louis Vuitton

    Since 2014, this spectacular building in the Bois de Boulogne has been a place of pilgrimage for lovers of architecture and art. The building, designed by architect Frank O. Gehry, is normally used for temporary exhibitions of contemporary art. Unfortunately, there is still no date for its re-opening.

  • Micky and Minnie Mouse in Disneyland Paris (Disneyland Paris)

    Paris reawakens — these sights can be visited again

    Disneyland Paris

    On July 15, the largest amusement park in Europe will resume operations and the sale of online tickets has already begun. Visitors aged 11 and over must wear a face mask. Hugs with popular characters like Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck are not allowed, but photos with them are. Last year, 15 million people visited the theme park on the outskirts of Paris.

  • France Paris - the dome at Galeries Lafayette (picture-alliance/dpa/W. Grubitzsch)

    Paris reawakens — these sights can be visited again

    Galeries Lafayette

    Since the end of May, Paris department stores have been allowed to welcome their customers again, in compliance with strict hygiene regulations, of course. In the long-established Galeries Lafayette too, guests can once again shop and admire the architecture: The galleries are reminiscent of opera house boxes, crowned by an Art Nouveau dome that hovers 42 meters (138 feet) above the ground.

  • France, Paris - Sacre-Coeur (picture-alliance/dpa/W. Grubitzsch)

    Paris reawakens — these sights can be visited again

    Sacré Coeur

    The Sacré Coeur Basilica stands on the highest hill in the city, the 130 meter (426 feet) high Montmartre. The Neo-Byzantine-style pilgrimage church is one of the most romantic places in Paris and it is also open again. The terrace below the main portal is the perfect place to watch the sun set over the “City of Love.”

  • France Paris boat with tourists on the river Seine (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Christians)

    Paris reawakens — these sights can be visited again

    A boat trip on the Seine

    To experience Paris from the water is is also possible again. The first providers have resumed the tours, others will follow by July 1. However, the popular evening dinner rides are still unavailable. But for a photo tour through Paris such a boat trip is always a good choice. No matter whether the respective sights are already open or not.

    Author: Kerstin Schmidt


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