Most EU countries to open internal borders by 15 June

After three months of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, most European countries are preparing to re-open their borders with other EU states. Whether to see family and friends, to do business, or to go on holiday, people will be able to travel across Europe over the summer. But new rules will be in place to avoid a second wave of contagions.

EU external borders still closed

The ban on non-essential travel from outside the EU to the Schengen area and other EU countries, as well as to Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, continues until 15 June (the UK is exempted). EU Home Affairs Ministers agreed on June 5 that the lifting of these restrictions “is not expected to take place before 1 July”. They also asked the European Commission to develop criteria to re-open external borders “in a coordinated manner”.

Re-opening of EU internal borders

As the health situation improves, and because tourism is a key economic sector, most EU countries are preparing to lift border controls and restore the free movement of persons which has been limited during the pandemic.

Seeking a common approach, the European Commission has recommended that restrictions are lifted between areas with similar epidemiological conditions first, and are fully removed at a later stage.

This is the current situation (details at the links provided may change as the situation evolves):

Countries that have fully opened their borders to other European states: Italy (from June 3), Luxembourg and Sweden (they never closed).

Countries that are opening their borders to citizens from some EU states, but where some travel restrictions remain in place (e.g. ban from certain countries, quarantine or requirement to provide a health certificate): Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia.

EU Home Affairs ministers however said that a majority of member states “will have lifted the controls at their internal borders and the related travel restrictions by 15 June, with others due to follow until the end of the month”. France and Germany, in particular, are expected to re-open on June 15.

While keeping open borders during the crisis, the UK will impose a strict 14-day quarantine to anyone arriving in the country from June 8. Travellers from Ireland are excluded. The policy will be reviewed in three weeks.

Countries still closed: Belgium (expected opening on June 15), Finland (since 14 May travel is allowed only for work purposes and subject to voluntary quarantine), Denmark (closed until August 31, except for travellers from Germany, Norway and Iceland, who can enter from June 15), Malta (expected opening to travellers from some countries on July 1) Norway, Poland (at least until June 12), Spain (expected opening on July 1). Key workers and people with residence permits are usually exempted from travel restrictions.

Regional pacts

Some countries with similar epidemiological conditions are seeking agreements among each other to allow free movement within their borders. The first to adopt such approach were the Baltics (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania). On May 15 they opened the borders to each other’s citizens and are now discussing the opening to other EU states.

The Nordics – Finland, Denmark and Norway – were considering a similar initiative, but they want to exclude Sweden, which never went into lockdown and has the highest mortality rate in Europe.

Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic opened their borders to each other’s citizens on May 27. Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia (which is not in the EU) decided to ease travel restrictions and spare their citizens from quarantine from June 1.

Spain and Portugal are also seeking to negotiate travel corridors so that holidaymakers can fly directly to tourism hotspots before travel bans are lifted in the rest of the country.

Travelling by plane

As borders are opening, airlines prepare to fly their planes again. The EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have published guidance to ensure travelling is safe. Except for special circumstances, the guidelines say only passengers, crew members and staff should go to the airport.

The protocol says “physical distancing” of 1.5 metres should be respected “wherever feasible, especially during check-in, security check, pre-boarding and boarding”. When this is not possible, extra “risk mitigation measures such as hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, additional transport…” should be put in place.

EU authorities want people to be physically distanced on planes, for example leaving one seat empty between passengers, increasing the distance between the seats or leaving every other row empty. Family members and individuals travelling together as part of the same household, however, can be seated next to each other.

“Passengers themselves are also expected to take personal responsibility,” the document says. Those with symptoms or who have been in contact with a Covid-19 case should not travel. Passengers will also be asked to provide contact details in case someone on the flight later tests positive. On board, they should wear masks, “practice scrupulous and frequent hand hygiene,” and avoid queuing for the use of the lavatories.

The first companies signing up to the protocol are Spanish airport operator AENA, Athens, Brussels, Frankfurt, Milan, Nice and Paris Charles de Gaulle airports, as well was Aegean Airlines, Easyjet and Wizz Air.

Other modes of transport

The European Commission also issued guidelines for other modes of transport, such as train, buses and ferries.

Passengers are encouraged to buy tickets and check-in online. Separated lanes should be set up at ports, airports, train stations, bus stops, ferry landings or in urban public transport hubs, the Commission says.

The Commission says that “fewer passengers may be allowed on board” and “passengers who are not from the same household may be seated apart”.

Passengers should wear face masks, especially where physical distancing is not possible, while national health and safety authorities will specify further requirements per transport mode.

Refunds

Under EU rules, travellers have the right to choose between vouchers or cash reimbursement for cancelled transport tickets (plane, train, coach, and ferries) or package travel. Many governments have put derogations in place allowing companies to privilege vouchers.

The Commission insists that reimbursement by means of a voucher can only take place if the passenger agrees to it. In any event, Brussels has said that the vouchers should be used to book a service of equivalent quality and should be transferable to another traveller. They should also be protected against insolvency of the issuer, have a minimum validity of 12 months, and be refundable after one year at most if not redeemed.  

More details are available at this Questions & Answers on Tourism and Travel Package and at this FAQ document on cancellations of individually booked accommodations, car rental and events due to Covid-19.

Consumers organisations recommend to check travel insurance policies as well, as some may not provide refunds for trips to areas for which governments have issued travel warnings.

A list of consumer organisations by country is available on the website of European consumer organisation BEUC and this is the link of the UK’s European Consumer Centre.

Contact tracing apps

EU countries have agreed to ensure that the contact-tracing apps they are developing work across borders so that citizens can be alerted of a potential infection also when they travel in the EU.

Some regions are also developing their own apps to register and track arrivals, and offer health advice or support if needed. All travellers should get familiar with the rules of the place they visit.

Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved.

Photo by Dati Bendo © European Union, 2020. Source: EC – Audiovisual Service.

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