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

Travel restrictions are rapidly disappearing in Europe, with new announcements coming every week – and, more recently, every day.

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

But parts of Europe have not waited to act. Citing high vaccination rates and the mildness of most omicron infections, nations moved to abandon rules deemed more effective in the global fight against Covid-19.

Tests can end first

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

The Council of the European Union recommended on January 25 that member countries apply a “person-based approach” – rather than a country-based approach – which allowed free travel for those who had a digital Covid certificate from the EU 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 much better when people know they just need to be vaccinated – it’s as simple as that.

Dale Fisher

Group Head of Medicine, National University Health System of Singapore

On February 22, the Council recommended that member countries open up more widely to travelers from outside the EU too – with the caveat that they are vaccinated or have recently recovered. However, the recommendation did not include a provision allowing foreigners to enter with only negative Covid test results.

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

“Vaccines are still very effective in preventing serious disease by a factor of 10 times greater,” he said.

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

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

“You can’t do this forever; [tests] will have to go someday,” he said. “I think travel will be much better when people know they just need to be vaccinated – it’s as 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 countries – such as Greece, Portugal, Croatia and Denmark – are also relaxing vaccination requirements, although some are limiting this to travelers from the EU or Schengen countries who test negative or who have recently restored.

Iceland ended all national and border Covid-19 restrictions last week.

Sam Spicer | time | Getty Images

Iceland and Norway, however, lifted almost all Covid-related travel restrictions this month, meaning travelers do not need to take tests or be vaccinated to enter, although certain 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.

Although the Council of the EU attempts to coordinate Covid restrictions in Europe, its recommendations are not binding on EU member countries. So, at present, a hodgepodge of travel rules governs the continent.

But, broadly speaking, the rules are moving in the same direction – towards a more travel-friendly environment with fewer, and in some cases no, Covid restrictions.

Covid cases drop rapidly

Daily cases in Europe have more than halved over the past month, from some 1.7 million daily Covid cases at the end of January to around 730,000 by February 25, according to Reuters.

Over the past two weeks, infections have declined in all major European countries, according to the news agency, with one major exception: Iceland, where cases are rising.

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

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