The borders of Europe are closing again and Belgium is now prohibiting non-essential travel. France is demanding negative tests from all EU visitors and Germany in order to reduce air traffic to “almost zero”.
Since virus deaths are still piling up across Europe and governments are alarmed by new Covid-19 strains, the EU’s travel restrictions go beyond the isolation of Great Britain and are now also restricting freedom of movement on the continent.
France and Italy are among the countries that require negative testing from across the EU, with France generally requiring gold standard PCR testing, although UK carriers are allowed faster screening.
Germany usually has a 10-day quarantine, but is also reviewing the test results of some high-risk countries and preparing to control the nine normally free-flowing land borders more strictly.
Liberal Sweden has no quarantine policy at all, while Switzerland takes a more surgical approach and selects particularly vulnerable areas of neighboring countries.
Travel from outside Europe is still kept to a minimum across the EU, with some countries placing special demands on Brazil and South Africa, which also have their own alarming strains of the disease.
It comes as the UK creates a “red list” of countries whose travelers will be subject to 10 days hotel quarantine upon arrival in the UK after Boris Johnson’s administration was criticized for keeping borders open earlier in the pandemic.
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron asked for additional analysis of the spread of the coronavirus on Wednesday before deciding whether new restrictions are needed, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said.
Macron is under pressure to put in a third lockdown after it was revealed that the 6 p.m. nightly curfew isn’t slowing infections and after the daily hospital admissions hit an eight-week high of 27,041 on Tuesday.
Infection rates are rising sharply in Portugal (green) and Spain (purple), although they are falling in the UK (light blue) and appear to have peaked in Italy and Germany
Death rates remain stubbornly high in much of Europe and have skyrocketed in Portugal after cases have spiked, while the UK’s daily death rate appears to be at a plateau since cases have fallen
The borders are rising again in many EU countries:
FRANCE: NEGATIVE TEST REQUIRED
After fears over the UK’s new strain of the virus led France last month to demand negative tests from incoming truckers, the French government has now expanded its measures across the EU.
Individuals arriving from EU countries by air or sea must present a negative test dated less than 72 hours earlier. However, the controls do not apply to people entering by road or rail.
The rules are stricter for people from the UK who can only travel for specific reasons and sometimes have to isolate for seven days in addition to a negative test.
However, this does not apply to cross-channel freight forwarders, who also have a special exception, ie they can carry out so-called “lateral flow” tests, which give a faster result than PCR tests.
Those who come to France are subject to the nationwide curfew, which currently runs from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. During this time, official documentation is required to get around, including leaving the country.
GERMANY: EXAMS FOR HIGH RISK AREAS
Germany is considering almost completely suspending flights to the country in order to slow down the spread of infectious virus strains, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said on Tuesday.
Under current regulations, people entering from high risk countries such as the UK are required to present a negative test result within the last 48 hours.
There is also a lower tier of countries, including France and Italy, that do not require a test, but do require people to go into a 10-day quarantine, which can be shortened to five if they test negative during their isolation.
The federal police are already carrying out controls at the land borders, and Seehofer warned that these could become “considerably stricter” – and at the same time suggested that air traffic be “reduced to almost zero”.
Angela Merkel told party colleagues that Germans had the right to expect “certain precautionary measures at the border,” with hundreds of deaths piling up every day.
GERMAN-CZECH BORDER: People are lining up at a test center in Folmava on Monday to cross the border into Germany, which has stricter controls in mind at the nine normally free-flowing land borders
ITALY: NEGATIVE TEST REQUIRED
Visitors from most of Europe are not required to provide a compelling reason to enter Italy, but they are required to show a negative result from a test carried out within the last 48 hours.
People who fail to present a negative test will be isolated and placed under “health surveillance,” the Italian government says.
The negative test requirement does not apply to the mini states of San Marino and Vatican City or a handful of low risk countries such as Australia and New Zealand.
However, stricter rules for the UK mean people can only enter from the UK if they were registered as Italians before December 23rd, or if they have a “reason for absolute necessity” to travel to Italy.
And there are even stricter rules for Brazil, where there are no flights to Italy at all and where anyone who was recently in the South American country when the ban was imposed had to get a test.
SPAIN: NEGATIVE TEST REQUIRED
Spain’s list of high risk areas where a negative test is required spans essentially the whole of the EU as well as numerous “third countries” such as the UK and Brazil.
Travelers wishing to travel to Spain must fill out a form that generates a QR code that they can show to border guards when they arrive at Spanish airports.
The tourism-dependent country has campaigned with the EU to set up “vaccine certificates” that could enable people to evade travel restrictions once they get a sting.
“Vaccine certification is something we are inevitably heading for,” the country’s foreign minister, Arancha Gonzalez, said last week. Spain is in the midst of an alarming surge in infections.
BELGIUM: SIGNIFICANT TRAVEL PROHIBITED
To date, non-essential travel to or from Belgium is prohibited until March 1st. The government says it will monitor arrivals by rail, road, air and sea.
The country wants to avoid repeating last winter when the Belgians went on alpine skiing holidays and brought the virus with them, or the Christmas and New Years period when an estimated 160,000 residents went abroad.
“When people travel, the virus travels with them, and we found, through sampling, that people who have traveled have more cases of the variants than those who haven’t,” said Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.
Anyone attempting to enter must write down their main reasons on an “affidavit”, which may include travel for medical reasons or for everyday cross-border activities.
There are generally no other restrictions on those who have access – but people coming from the UK, South Africa and South America must be quarantined for 10 days.
An empty check-in area at Brussels Airport in Zaventem, Belgium, today
BELGIUM: Police officers watch a car approach a border crossing near France on Wednesday after the smaller country banned non-essential journeys in and out of the country
SWEDEN: NO QUARANTINE
In line with the liberal approach it has taken during the pandemic, Sweden does not require EU arrivals to quarantine and does not even require masks at its airports.
However, there is an outright travel ban from the UK, requiring negative tests for the few people who may be allowed to enter for substantial reasons.
An entry ban from outside the EU will remain in place until at least March 31st.
There are also stricter rules for Norway and Denmark, where the British strain of the virus has already been discovered and where people can only enter Sweden for specific reasons.
Those who make it to Sweden from high risk countries should isolate for seven days, but this is not mandatory.
SWITZERLAND: QUARANTINE FOR SELECTED AREAS
Switzerland’s 10-day quarantine rule only applies to a relatively small list of countries, including the UK, the US, Portugal and the Netherlands.
In addition, the Swiss authorities have identified particularly endangered areas in neighboring countries – only two federal states and three regions of Italy are subject to quarantine rules.
However, under new rules slated to go into effect in early February, people will also have to present a negative test result – although this may allow them to shorten their quarantine period.
Switzerland said today it is ready to spend more than $ 1 billion on testing for asymptomatic covicases and said it is likely to be responsible for most of the new infections.
AUSTRIA: A police officer and an Austrian soldier speak to a driver who is crossing the border from the Czech Republic into the Alpine country and who is doing random checks at its land borders
AUSTRIA: Ten-day quarantine
People entering Austria usually have to be quarantined for 10 days. However, this can be shortened to five days if a PCR or antigen test is half negative.
Flights from the UK are not allowed to land in Austria until February 7th.
Austrian border guards carry out random checks and people can only enter the Czech Republic or Slovakia at certain intersections.
A more extensive lockdown has been extended to at least February 8, with the catering and tourism sectors expected to remain closed until at least March.
NETHERLANDS: Ten-day quarantine
While the Dutch borders remain open, newcomers must be quarantined for 10 days and travelers from risk areas must present a negative test to enter the country.
Flights from Great Britain, South Africa and all of South America are prohibited altogether, while British passenger ferries are not allowed to dock in the Netherlands.
Dutch officials believe the British variant is now causing around a third of the cases, forcing the country into its first curfew since World War II.
But anti-lockdown protests have become violent in the past few days. Hundreds of people were arrested three days after the riot in Amsterdam and elsewhere.
Pictured: French President Emmanuel Macron waves at the Elysee Presidential Palace after a working lunch with the President of Transition Mali on January 27th. Macron has been criticized for how the government has dealt with the pandemic and how slowly the vaccination campaign just launched in France has started 1.81 doses of vaccine per 100 people
In light of next year’s presidential contest, Macron has been criticized for how the government is dealing with the pandemic and how slowly the vaccination campaign is starting in France, with only 1.81 doses per 100 people as of January 26. By comparison, the UK vaccinated 11.25 per 100 people.
A curfew runs from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. every night, but Macron is under pressure to impose a third national lockdown since the crisis began almost a year ago as data shows further spikes in hospital stays and deaths.
“The data shows that the curfew is currently not slowing the spread of the virus sufficiently,” Attal said at a press conference after Macron chaired a cabinet meeting.
The scenarios discussed range from a very strict lockdown to maintaining the status quo, Attal said. It is unlikely that no action will be taken, he said.
Restaurants, bars, museums and ski resorts are closed in France, but schools are still open. Shops will remain open, but with restrictions on the number of shops allowed.
Macron will likely wait until Saturday, two weeks after the curfew extended, before deciding on the next move. Public opinion is divided. An opinion poll on Wednesday found that 52 percent of French people were against another tough ban.
Macron is concerned about the rapid spread of a new strain of Covid-19 and the resulting deaths in the UK – which would require stricter measures to stop – but also fears that restricting public freedoms could lead to civil disobedience, a government official said and denied on unrest in the Netherlands.
“I know there is a fatigue,” Gabriel Attal said during the press conference before adding that the decision on whether or not to tighten measures would boil down to health indicators.
During its first lockdown last spring, France closed all schools and universities and banned citizens from leaving their homes except to buy groceries, carry out important work, seek medical help or play sports. The schools remained open during a less stringent detention in the fall.
The government’s lead scientific advisor, Jean-Francois Delfraissy, said on Sunday that a new lockdown was needed but it was up to politicians to decide how difficult it would be to achieve it.
If another ban is not imposed, it would make March a very difficult time, as a more contagious variant, first discovered in the UK, is becoming more common in France, Delfraissy said.