Today (May 22, 2020): When can we go on a holiday again?
As avid travelers, we have to face the reality: international travel as we have known it for decades will only return to full normality once the coronavirus pandemic fades. We will only be able to go on a holiday again when other countries open their borders, when international flight schedules resume, and when governments across the world lift their warnings against all non-essential overseas travel. While experts don’t have a crystal ball, most agree that it will take around 2 to 3 years before the travel industry begins to return to regular levels. In the meantime, both the airline and hotel industry will undergo some very big changes (as I have explained in my other blogposts here and here). That said, some countries are offering some hope in these dark days and are preparing to welcome travelers again in the very near future.
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Icelandic authorities have taken preventive steps to contain the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus in the country. As Iceland has few entry points and the lowest population density in Europe, the country has been able to move swiftly to identify, communicate with and, where necessary, quarantine Icelandic residents. Iceland has now announced it will open to tourists again on June 15th but with several conditions. Tourists visiting Iceland after this date can make a choice: go into an immediate two week quarantine, get tested for the coronavirus, or present a clean bill of health from the health authorities in their home countries. On top of that, visitors will also be asked to install the Rakning C-19 contagion tracing app on their smart phones.
The most exciting news here is that travelers can get a test for the coronavirus at Keflavík Airport upon arrival in Iceland. It is estimated that roughly 1,000 samples will be taken each day, and samples will be sent to a lab, where an analysis will be made within five hours. Many hotels will have to set up “isolation corridors” within their facilities, so that guests will have somewhere to stay safely in the event that they test positive for the coronavirus. The test will cost $350 USD per person and will be paid by the government for two weeks, at which time the progress will be evaluated and assessed. If the project is successful, then passengers will be charged for further tests.
Greece has been praised for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, recording fewer than 200 coronavirus-related deaths and fewer than 3000 confirmed cases. Greece’s vast archipelagos of islands – including Mykonos and Santorini – has remained remarkably free of coronavirus. Unfortunately though, the coronavirus pandemic threatens to ruin Greece’s tourism industry, which kicks off next month and is vital to the country’s economy. However, as Greece acted fast on the coronavirus, it can now re-open earlier than most other countries and will welcome tourists again as of June 15th. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the country’s success in containing the virus would be a “passport of safety, credibility and health ” to international visitors.
The country will take some safety precautions though. While tourists will be allowed to enter Greece without taking a coronavirus test or remaining in quarantine, health officials will continue to conduct coronavirus spot tests when required. Healthcare capacity will be boosted at popular tourist and resort destinations with medical staff and improved facilities, along with a comprehensive plan for the handling of possible infections. To encourage tourism, Greece is also making travel cheaper by temporarily reducing value added tax (VAT) on all transport – flights, bus journeys and rail travel – to 13% from 24%. Taxes on coffee, soft drinks and tickets for open-air cinemas, a mainstay of any Greek summer, will also be slashed.
Tanzania has lifted flight restrictions and quarantine for travelers from abroad in an effort to revive tourism. The country has reopened its airspace to both scheduled and non-scheduled international flights after a steady slowdown in the number of COVID-19 cases in the country. As long as passengers’ body temperatures don’t point to anything unusual, they would be able to enter the country without being quarantined, said President John Magufuli. All tourist providers, from the airport and hotel to tourist attractions, will be required to wear face masks and observe social distancing. All hotels and other tourist facilities in Tanzania have been undergoing a “COVID-19 certification process” (whatever that may mean) and certificates will be placed at the entrances of the facilities.
However, there’s is one big caveat here: Tanzania’s president has repeatedly downplayed the risk of the pandemic, causing alarm among neighboring African countries and international organizations. “Tanzania has always had very repressive laws against freedom of expression and the press,” said Roland Ebole, a regional researcher at Amnesty International, to BBC. “We are now seeing these laws being used in a more intensive way to target those who are speaking out, especially about COVID-19,” says Mr Ebole. And earlier this month, the US embassy in Tanzania issued an alert warning that many hospitals in the city had been “overwhelmed” in recent weeks. “The risk of contracting COVID-19 in Dar es Salaam is extremely high. Despite limited official reports, all evidence points to exponential growth of the epidemic in Dar and other locations in Tanzania,” the alert said.
Clusters of low-risk and closely collaborating countries around the world have begun to team up to create safe ‘travel bubbles’ or ‘travel corridors’, essentially allowing citizens who live within the bubble to cross borders without the need to go into a mandated travel quarantine.
- As of 21 May, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania have opened their borders to one another to create a zone dubbed the “Baltic bubble”, which is the first travel bubble in Europe. People can only travel if they show no symptoms of COVID-19 and a person must not have left the country they are coming from in the previous 14 days. A person arriving from a third country – outside of the “bubble” – must abide by the previous rules and isolate for 14 days before they can travel to another Baltic State.
- Australia and New Zealand have also agreed on a travel bubble – the so called trans-Tasman travel bubble – when flights resume between the two countries. This should not come as a surprise since Australia and New Zealand are two of the most integrated economies in the world. The two-week quarantine periods both Australia and New Zealand currently impose on international arrivals will be mutually waived under the agreement. The countries are also considering expanding their travel bubble with Fiji and other Pacific Islands, although that trans-Pacific bubble will not be installed until the trans-Tasman bubble is deemed safe.
- Israel is also hoping to create such a corridor with Greece and Cyprus to begin with. Georgia, Montenegro and the Seychelles could later be included. Israel is also interested in resuming flights to and from Austria, but specific talks with Vienna have not yet been initiated. A small-scale pilot project with Greece and Cyprus could come in June or in July. Several options are being considered, one of them for travelers within the bubble to be checked for the coronavirus before departure as a visa condition.
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that many internal European Union (EU) border restrictions would be lifted by June 15, which would allow the creation of several travel bubbles within the European Union, which accounts for 50% of the global tourism market. This travel bubble policy is backed by the EU which proposes lifting restrictions between member states of “sufficiently similar epidemiological situations,” in other words, the same rate of coronavirus infection. For example, France, Belgium and the Netherlands have been in talks about forming a travel bubble, and so are Germany, Switzerland and Austria.