Borders opened up across Europe on Monday after three months of coronavirus closures that began chaotically in March. Many restrictions persist, it’s unclear how keen Europeans will be to travel this summer and the continent is still closed to Americans, Asians and other international tourists.
Border checks for most Europeans were dropped overnight in Germany, France and elsewhere, nearly two weeks after Italy opened its frontiers. The European Union’s 27 nations, as well as those in the Schengen passport-free travel area, which includes a few non-EU nations such as Switzerland, aren’t likely to open to visitors from outside the continent until at least the beginning of next month, or possibly later.
Announcing Monday’s reopening of borders and Paris restaurants, French President Emmanuel Macron said it’s time ‘to turn the page of the first act of the crisis’ and ‘rediscover our taste for freedom’.
He warned, “This doesn’t mean the virus has disappeared and we can totally let down our guard. The summer of 2020 will be a summer unlike any other.”
“We have got the pandemic under control, (but) the reopening of our frontiers is a critical moment,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said as he announced he was bringing forward Spain’s opening to European travelers by 10 days to June 21.
“The threat is still real. The virus is still out there,” he added.
Social distancing was in short supply as London’s Oxford Street shops reopened and Paris bistros such as Cafe Des Anges welcomed back regular customers. Crowds jammed the entrance to London’s Niketown store despite efforts by employees to have an orderly line.
“It’s very hard to get people who are sitting at the bar to respect social distancing,” said cafe manager Virgile Grunberg.
“People have missed this, because they come in every morning before work, have a little coffee and a discussion, so of course, it’s part of Paris,” Virgile added.
The need to get Europe’s tourism industry up and running again is urgent, especially for Mediterranean nations such as Spain, Italy and Greece as the economic fallout of the crisis mushrooms.
“A lot will depend on whether people feel comfortable to travel and whether we can project Greece as a safe destination,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said.
Monday, Greece welcomed the first international flights whose passengers didn’t face compulsory Covid-19 tests to Athens and Thessaloniki. Direct international flights to regional Greek airports, including on its sun-kissed islands, will begin July 1. Visitors will be subject to random virus testing.
In a trial run Monday, Spain allowed the first of thousands of Germans to fly to its Balearic Islands – waiving its 14-day quarantine. The idea is to test best practices in the coronavirus era.
“This pilot program will help us learn a lot for what lies ahead,” Sánchez said.
“We want our country, which is already known as a world-class tourist destination, to be recognized as also a secure destination,” he added.