The European Commission on Wednesday advised member states to open their borders to countries with similar coronavirus risk profiles under a plan to bolster the ailing tourist industry.
This announcement was eagerly anticipated by millions of would-be travelers, desperate to enjoy a slice of European sunshine and culture after weeks or months being sequestered at home under lockdown.
“We all need a break, especially after this confinement,” Thierry Breton, the EU’s internal market commissioner, said. “We want to enjoy summer holidays, we would like to see our families and friends even if they live in another region, in another country.
“But we want to be able to do so while staying healthy and safe because we know the virus will stay for us for some time.”
Non-European Union visitors could still face an indeterminate wait to the go ahead to travel, however.
Citizens of EU countries with similar levels of infections should be able to travel more freely, the Commission proposed. “Restrictions on travel should first be lifted in areas with a comparable epidemiological situation and where sufficient capabilities are in place in terms of hospitals, testing, surveillance and contact tracing capacities.”
Margaritis Schinas, the Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, said “As our Member States gradually lift restrictive measures, we are putting in place the foundations for rebooting (tourism) in a safe, proportionate way that will prevent the resurgence of the virus within the EU, whilst safeguarding our way of life.”
While the Commission can only make non-binding recommendations to governments which have control over their borders, Brussels did offer some specifics.
Airlines and airports must insist that all passengers wear masks, but there is no need to leave the middle seat empty on aircraft, the proposals said.
People should be able to stay in hotels, eat in restaurants or go to beaches safely, they added, although it cautioned those freedoms would change if there is a new wave of infections.
All crossings should have “containment measures” in place where social distancing measures cannot be observed.
The European Union further recommends buying tickets and doing check-ins online.
Fewer passengers should be allowed to board vehicles, passengers not from the same household should sit apart, and face masks should be required.
Beyond this, sanitizing gel should be freely available during journeys, and food/drink should not be served aboard.
The proposals say that in areas which would expect a big wave of tourists (such as island nations), that the areas have sufficient health system capacity ‘in place for local people and tourists, so that in the event of a sudden increase in cases, primary care, hospital and intensive care services are not overwhelmed.’
The EU’s plan also sets out a roadmap for developing health and safety protocols for beaches, hotels, campsites, B&Bs, cafes and restaurants to protect guests and employees.
It also aims to strengthen rules giving travelers the right to choose between vouchers or cash reimbursement for canceled transport tickets or package trips.
EU member states have also agreed to protocols to ensure tracing apps work across borders so that citizens can be warned of a potential infection with coronavirus while traveling within the bloc.
“Until a vaccine or treatment is available, the needs and benefits of travel and tourism need to be weighed against the risks of again facilitating the spread of the virus that may result in a resurgence of cases, possibly leading to a reintroduction of confinement measures,” the EU proposal warned.