Europe’s travel rules are dropping as fast as its Covid cases

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Travel restrictions are quickly disappearing in Europe, with new announcements coming by the week — and, more recently, by the day.

Changes to eliminate Covid-related travel rules gained momentum in January, as a wave of omicron-related infections engulfed the continent.  

But parts of Europe didn’t wait to act. Citing high vaccination rates and the mildness of most omicron infections, nations moved to drop rules deemed no longer effective in the global fight against Covid-19.  

Testing may end first

Before Covid infections peaked in Europe in late January, the United Kingdom and Switzerland had already announced they were scrapping pre-departure Covid tests for vaccinated travelers. Meanwhile, other European countries shortened self-isolation periods and dropped color-coded country travel restrictions.

The Council of the European Union recommended on Jan. 25 that member nations apply a “person-based approach” — rather than a country-based one — that allowed free travel for those with an EU digital Covid certificate that showed proof of vaccination with an EU-approved vaccine, a recent negative Covid test or recovery from an infection.

I think travel will be a lot better when people know they just have to be vaccinated — it’s simple as that.
Dale Fisher
group chief of medicine, Singapore’s National University Health System

On Feb. 22, the Council recommended member nations open more broadly to travelers from outside of the EU as well — with the caveat that they be vaccinated or have recently recovered. The recommendation did not include a provision to allow outsiders in with only negative Covid test results, however.

This makes sense for countries, especially those with strained hospital systems, because unvaccinated people are more at risk of severe disease, said Cyrille Cohen, head of the immunotherapy laboratory at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University.

“Vaccines are still very efficient at preventing severe disease by a factor of 10 times more,” he said.

Most countries require that travelers be vaccinated because “they’re not going to put a strain on the country,” agreed Dale Fisher, group chief of medicine at Singapore’s National University Health System.

Pre-travel testing is different, he said, calling it both inconvenient and unsustainable.

“You can’t do this forever; [tests] will have to go one day,” he said. “I think travel will be a lot better when people know they just have to be vaccinated — it’s simple as that.”

Rules in Europe today

Indeed, many countries in Europe are dropping some mandatory testing requirements, including France, Finland and Lithuania, among others.

Some nations — such as Greece, Portugal, Croatia and Denmark – are also relaxing vaccination requirements, though some limit this to travelers from EU or Schengen countries who test negative or have recently recovered.  

Iceland ended all Covid-19 restrictions domestically and at the border last week.
Sam Spicer | Moment | Getty Images

Iceland and Norway, however, lifted nearly all Covid-related travel restrictions this month, meaning travelers needn’t take tests or be vaccinated to enter, though some rules still apply to the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. Like Denmark, both countries are dropping internal requirements, such as mask wearing, social distancing rules and event limits.

Though the Council of the EU is trying to coordinate Covid restrictions in Europe, its recommendations are non-binding on EU member nations. Thus, at present a hodgepodge of travel rules governs the continent.

But, generally speaking, the rules are shifting in the same direction — toward a more travel-friendly environment with fewer, and in some cases no, Covid restrictions.  

Covid cases dropping fast  

Daily cases in Europe have more than halved in the past month, from some 1.7 million daily Covid cases in late January to around 730,000 as at Feb. 25, according to Reuters.

Over the past two weeks, infections have fallen in every major European country, according to the news agency, with one major exception — Iceland, where cases are rising.  

The continent has confirmed nearly 155 million cases in total, and more than 2 million deaths. Cases are still high across the continent, though, accounting for 40 out of every 100 worldwide cases, Reuters said.

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