Coronavirus Outbreak: Should You Cancel a Trip to Europe?

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

As the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommend Americans not travel at all and spend Thanksgiving only with people in their own household, Europe continues 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. The WHO reported that one person dies from COVID every 17 seconds in Europe. Officials continue to warn that strict measures will need to continue throughout the winter regardless of the promising vaccine clinical trials news.

The WHO’s Europe director said on November 19 that “Europe is once again the epicenter of the pandemic, together with the United States.” November 8 saw Europe’s highest number of new daily infections at 338,380, although daily case numbers are now stabilizing or dropping in most of Europe.   Worldwide, cases climb by about five million each week. 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, and 50 million on November 8. Eleven countries have more than one million cases, five of those have over two million, and three over five million. 

As of November 20, according to Worldometers, the world has 57,473,492 confirmed cases, 1,369,516 deaths, and at least 39,901,849 people recovered. The highest cases numbers are in the U.S. (12,093,903 cases, 258,654 deaths), India (9,021,020 cases, 132,310 deaths), Brazil (5,983,089 cases, 168,141 deaths), France (2,086,288 cases, 47,127 deaths), Russia (2,039,926 cases, 35,311 deaths), Spain (1,574,063 cases, 42,291 deaths), and the U.K. (1,453,256 cases, 53,775 deaths).

Rising case numbers in Spain, France, Italy, and the U.K. resulted in several changes to the order of the countries in the top ten list in October and November. France was tenth in October and is now at fourth. Spain, ninth in early September, is now at sixth. Italy moved back into the top ten list on November 10 and is now at ninth. As of November 11, all countries in the top ten list had more than one million cases, when Italy crossed that threshold. 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. Several E.U. countries are now 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.

The Latest

Case counts in parts of Europe are starting to drop—in Europe overall, new weekly cases were at 1.8 million last week compared to two million the week before. Countries with record numbers of new daily cases include Poland, Russia, Sweden, and Ukraine.

Hospitalization and death rates are still high in many countries. The WHO’s Europe director, Hans Kluge, said on November 19 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.

Finland and Norway are two exceptions to the 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 are banned.

France plans to extend its lockdown measures past December 1, despite success in dropping its daily new cases from 60,000 to 20,000 and occasionally 12,000. France aims to have daily new infections down to 5,000 before easing restrictions. The country is determining how and when to reopen its retail sector in advance of the Christmas buying season to both avoid crowds in stores and not lose sales to online giants. France is also cautioning its citizens about holiday travel and gatherings, given the country’s continuing high hospitalization rates.

In Spain, the Madrid region is closing its domestic borders from December 4 to 14. Travel in and out of the region will only be allowed for emergency reasons. Spain’s nationwide midnight-to-6-a.m. curfew is expected to continue.

The four U.K. nations are discussing a U.K.-wide approach for restrictions over the Christmas holiday period. A key goal is a common approach to domestic travel to allow people to see their families. Overall in the U.K. and particularly in Wales, the circuit-breaker lockdown appears to be working to lower both transmission and hospitalization rates. Northern Ireland is starting a similar circuit breaker next week including closing nonessential stores. As well, its bars and restaurants, set to reopen November 27, will remain closed until mid-December.

Scotland’s parliament approved a travel ban and other new measures to combat the country’s infection rate. As of November 20, travel across Scotland’s borders is only allowed for specified reasons and travel within Scotland is also limited. There are questions about whether the Scottish parliament has the authority to change freedom of movement laws and travel rules affecting the U.K.’s common travel area (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales). However, Wales has similar rules in place. As well, exemptions to the Scottish travel ban are broad. The Guardian reports that people can cross Scotland’s borders for school, work, medical appointments including donating blood, and even holidays for some people are allowed on compassionate grounds.

The regular weekly change to England’s “travel corridors” list of countries exempt from mandatory quarantine was announced November 19 and goes into effect November 21. The following countries are added to the green list: the Caribbean islands of Bonaire/St. Eustatius/Saba, Israel and Jerusalem, Namibia, Northern Mariana Islands, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Uruguay, and the US Virgin Islands. This change also applies to Northern Ireland and Wales. , Crete, Kos, Rhodes, and Zakynthos), Greece is removed from the 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.

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 advises against all travel for the Thanksgiving holiday) 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.

Europe Overall

As of November 20, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reports 11,542,665 COVID-19 cases and 283,673 deaths in the EU/EEA, the U.K., Monaco, San Marino, and Switzerland. All EU/EEA countries and the U.K. are affected.

A new study shows that the COVID mutation known as 20A.EU1 is now 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.

COVID-19 was initially reported in Europe almost a month after the first cases were confirmed in China, however, there’s new evidence that France had a case in late December 2019 and wastewater studies in Italy show COVID was present in December. On March 2, 2020, the President of the EU raised the risk level for coronavirus in Europe from moderate to high.

Restricted travel started lifting as of May 15. June 15 marked the date most European countries opened to visitors from within Europe, often, but not always, for all EU and Schengen countries and sometimes including the U.K. Initially, travelers from within the EU were not required to provide test results, be tested, or quarantine, however, several EU countries added restrictions for some of their neighbors in August.

Reopen EU explains each country’s COVID rules, transportation availability, and the types of tourist infrastructure that’s open, and shows the risk designation of each country by color. Euronews also lists entry requirements by country as does Al Jazeera. A new website, Covid.Control.com, identifies epidemiological data, entry restrictions, and the status of tourism-related openings for countries in Europe and around the world via an interactive map.

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

The ECDC posts regular COVID-19 updates on the situation in the European Union, the European Economic Area (EEA), and the United Kingdom. They cover the countries commonly considered as “Europe,” between Iceland and the U.K. in the west and Estonia, Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria in the east. Technically, this means the ECDC does include Andorra, Cyprus, Malta, Monaco, San Marino, and Switzerland, but does not include countries like Albania, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia, and Russia. Some, but not all, of the ECDC’s reporting does include these latter countries. A listing of COVID-19 cases by country is on the ECDC’s Situation Update page.

Here’s the latest in some of Europe’s most popular tourist countries.

Italy

Italy was once the European country most affected by COVID-19. 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. Italy passed the million case mark on November 11. As of November 19, Italy has 1,308,528 cases and 47,870 deaths. The number of new daily cases continues to hit about 35,000 new daily cases, up from about 2,500 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. On March 20, the number of COVID-19 deaths in Italy reached 3,405, exceeding the number then reported in China. On August 3, Reuters reported that a sampling of antibody testing in Italy indicates that the actual rate of infection is about six times higher than the official numbers of positive tests, meaning that 2.5% of Italians, or about 1.5 million people, had been infected at that point.

Italy’s state of emergency, 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. National restrictions include a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew and the 6 p.m. closure of restaurants and bars. Many Italian regions are under partial lockdown conditions until at least December 3. 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 your immediate household.

Many tourist sites are closed from November 5 to December 3, including Rome’s Colosseum and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  There’s hope for keeping COVID under control in the future, with a July 2 announcement that the World Alpine Championships should take place as scheduled in Cortina d’Ampezzo in February 2021.

After the initial spring lockdown, Italy reopened for both domestic travel and travel from 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.

France

As of November 19, France has a total of 2,086,288 cases and 47,127 deaths. France has returned to daily new infections of around 20,000 after reaching highs in the 60,000 range. France, in tenth spot in mid-October, moved into the fifth spot in late October. In early November, France and Russia fluctuated between the fourth and fifth highest case count, and as of November 12 France is back at fourth.

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’s month-long lockdown, begun October 30, was extended another two weeks on November 12. Residents throughout the country must stay in their homes except when buying food, going to medical appointments, and commuting to school or work (although working from home is mandatory whenever possible). All stores must close, except for those selling essential goods. Restaurants and bars are closed. Hotels remain open, but can only provide room service rather than restaurant dining. An early November restriction to control infection rates in Paris includes limiting restaurant takeout and delivery in Paris to the hours from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. France hopes to reopen some of its retail in early December for the Christmas shopping season.

As with France’s first lockdown, police have the power to confirm that anyone outside their home has the correct government-issued document and can issue fines if they do not. Visiting in private homes is not allowed. People are permitted one hour per day of solitary exercise outdoors, but it must be within one kilometer (0.62 miles) of home. Unlike the spring lockdown, schools, parks, farmers’ markets, and factories are allowed to remain open. 

Travel within France isn’t allowed, even to vacation residences and second homes. France is closing its borders to non-E.U. countries but allowing E.U. residents to enter. Travelers from outside the E.U./Schengen zone must show certification of a negative COVID test or be tested on arrival. Hotels are allowed to remain open and provide room service, but not restaurant dining.

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. 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. Though less accurate than PCR tests, experts say that rapid testing is beneficial if it is widespread.

France’s tourist sites are closed again as of October 30. In the spring, the Eiffel Tower reopened earlier than expected, on June 25. Disneyland Paris first reopened on July 15. When it reopens again, perhaps in December, advance registration will continue to be required to ensure entrance due to limited capacity.

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

Germany’s coronavirus cases are at 885,539 as of November 20, with 13,858 deaths. German officials say new restrictions are stabilizing the infection rate but not yet lowering it, with the country setting new daily case count records and reaching previous ones.

Germany’s first case was reported on January 28. Coronavirus information in English is available on the German government’s website with entry and quarantine requirements detailed on Germany’s foreign ministry’s website. On July 10, the health minister said Germany’s low death rate, in comparison to other European countries, is due to imposing a “very early” lockdown, as reported by The Guardian.

Germany began its new one-month lockdown on November 2. Dubbed “lockdown light,” it closes restaurants, bars, theaters, and fitness centers, adds new restrictions on shops, and limits private gatherings to two households. Hotels are advised not to host tourists and nonessential travel is discouraged. Germany’s Christmas markets, carnivals, and St. Martin’s Day parades, which normally begin in mid-November, are canceled. In mid-October, Angela Merkel said the country’s COVID cases are “in a phase of exponential growth” and that the next days and weeks are critical for determining Germany’s success in getting through the pandemic.

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.”

United Kingdom

As of November 19, the U.K. has 1,453,256 cases and 53,775 COVID-19 deaths. The U.K. continues to have new daily cases around 20,000, up from 3,400 in September. Daily cases counts have been as high as 33,470 (the record on November 12).. In early November, The Guardian reported that the U.K. has Europe’s highest death toll. The U.K. moved back onto the list of ten countries with the highest COVID cases in late October at the ninth spot, and as of mid-November has the world’s seventh highest number of cases. 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 four U.K. nations are working toward a common approach for domestic travel between them for the Christmas holidays.

As of November 20, Scotland closed its borders to all but essential travel, with specific exemptions outlined. Travel within Scotland is also restricted. Some opposition members challenged whether the Scottish parliament had the authority to implement the new regulations, although Wales has similar rules in place. The Guardian reported that allowable exemptions include travel for work, school, medical appointments including donating blood. On compassionate grounds, someone with a fatal chronic illness was given the green light to go on holiday.  

England’s four-week-long national lockdown started November 5, replacing the three tiers of risk-based regional restrictions previously in place. The lockdown will lift on December 2 at the earliest. The national restrictions encourage people to stay at home as much as possible and limit contacts outside their immediate household. One contact outside the household is allowed for outdoor exercise. Both law and guidelines outline the restrictions. Many businesses are closed and people are encouraged to work at home. Restaurants are allowed to remain open for takeout and delivery. Hotels can remain open but, by law, are only allowed to accept guests traveling for specific purposes. Travel is allowed for essential work purposes, but tourism, holidays, and even travel to a secondary residence are not permitted. Face masks continue to be mandatory indoors in public places. 

The U.K.’s three-tiered COVID restriction system for England came into effect October 14 but is on hold due to the November national lockdown. It was meant to simplify and standardize rules and outlines restrictions for areas dependent on their designation as medium, high, or very high risk. The Guardian reported that the new policy “descended into chaos” as government officials in some of the areas—particularly those in England’s northwest—rejected the lockdowns that apply to their highest risk designation.

The U.K.’s borders are open, however, as of June 8, there’s a mandatory quarantine period for some new arrivals. Each of the four U.K. nations has a green list of countries exempt from quarantine. For example, England’s list applies to passengers arriving in England from any of its current listed destinations, unless, in the preceding 14 days, travelers have stopped in a country or territory not on the list. That includes if their plane stops en route to England and new passengers get on.

The latest change to England’s green “travel corridor” list (destinations from which returning travelers are exempt from quarantine) was announced November 19 and goes into effect November 21. Unusually, the announcement said the changes also apply to Northern Ireland and Wales. Added to the green list are the Caribbean islands of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, Israel and Jerusalem, Namibia, Northern Mariana Islands, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Uruguay, and the US Virgin Islands. 

The list is updated almost weekly; past changes are as follows. Effective November 14, eight countries were added to the green list: 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

Spain was Europe’s most coronavirus-affected country as of early April, until Russia (in the summer) and France (in October) surpassed Spain. Spain had been holding in the ninth spot since early September, was seventh at the end of September, and became the fifth, then sixth most-affected country in the world in early October. Spain’s state of emergency was extended another six months until May 9, 2021.

As of November 19, Spain has 1,574,063 cases and 42,291 deaths. Spain crossed the 20,000 new daily case count mark on October 22 but the infection rate is dropping as of mid-November. 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 midnight-to-6-a.m. curfew that is expected to continue into December. With respect to most restrictions, Spain continues to take a regional rather than a national approach, sometimes with national and regional governments using the courts to maintain and enforce restrictions. In October, several Spanish regions banned nonessential travel in and out of their regional borders; in early November the Cantabria region will no longer travel across municipal borders. Several regions, including Catalonia (and Barcelona), have closed restaurants and bars. The Madrid region is closing its domestic borders from December 4 to 14, with travel allowed only for emergency reasons.

Beginning in mid-July, Spain’s new cases numbers began to climb rapidly again. The Telegraph linked the rise in cases to the return of tourists. Spain’s head of health emergencies said August 20 that “things are not going well. If we continue to allow transmission to rise, even if most cases are mild, we will end up with many in the hospital, many in intensive care and many deaths.”

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

Spain’s 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

In November, lockdowns are being 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 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 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 11, Donald Trump announced a travel ban against Europe’s 26 Schengen countries, and on March 14, the U.K. and Ireland were added. The ban means that as of March 14, foreign nationals who have been in any of those countries within the last 14 days are barred from entering the U.S. for the next 30 days. It does not apply to U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and their immediate families. They can return home but may be required to self-isolate or be quarantined for 14 days.

On March 17, EU leaders announced what The Guardian calls “the strictest travel ban in its history:” a 30-day suspension of all travel by non-EU citizens for all 26 member countries. There are a few exemptions including permanent residents, U.K. citizens, and medical workers.

So, Should You Change Your Travel Plans?

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

Be prepared for changing testing and self-isolation/quarantine rules (both upon arrival and when you return home). We all need to do whatever we can to prevent vulnerable populations from becoming ill and to slow the spread of COVID-19 so our health care systems can respond, as outlined in our general coronavirus advice.

 

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