Just a few short weeks ago tourists and business people were concerned about the upcoming introduction of the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) and the possible requirement of a Schengen Visa to visit certain European countries. Now those concerns are firmly on the back burner with the arrival of the coronavirus Covid-19.
In the ongoing battle to stem the spread of Covid-19 the European Commission has announced its intention to close all external European borders to third-country nationals. This ban on entering the European zone came into effect on the 16th of March and is set to last for at least thirty days but may be extended depending on the situation at that time. The European border closure effectively excludes non-EU residents from entering any of the twenty-six EU states along with Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland although exceptions will be made for:
- EU citizens returning to their usual country of residence
- Workers who need to commute between countries as part of their jobs
- Healthcare workers
- Scientists and other health professionals engaged in combatting coronavirus
It is hoped that the measures now being put in place will be sufficient to contain the spread of Covid-19 but this is by no means a certainty with countries such as Spain and Italy already having declared a state of emergency and effectively closed their borders for all inward and outward movement of people. On March 17th French President Emmanuel Macron announced the country was “at war” with coronavirus and closed the nation's borders three days later.
Fewer and Fewer Flights
While Britain is now effectively a “third country” since leaving the EU, British citizens are not affected by the closure of European external borders because of the transition phase agreed as part of the Brexit negotiations. However, being permitted to travel is one thing, finding flights is quite another. American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and citizens of other countries who were able to travel visa-free to the Schengen area, are subject to the new travel restrictions.
American President Donald Trump was pilloried by many for banning flights from different European countries to the USA but, within days, Europe has done exactly the same. Already EasyJet, British Airways and Ryanair have cancelled all flights to Italy, one of the worst affected European countries, until early April and other airlines are sure to follow suit.
The situation is very fluid at present and changes can and will occur within the space of hours rather than days but the current situation regarding the major European countries is:
- Austria. Direct flights between the UK and Austria have all been cancelled as well direct air and rail travel from Austria to France, Spain, Switzerland and Italy. Many ski resorts are closed or soon to be closed.
- France. Flights to France have been significantly reduced along with cross-channel train and ferry services. All travel to France could be banned in the coming days unless Britain introduces more strenuous measures to combat Covid-19 according to French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.
- Germany. Although it is still possible to fly to Germany the number of flights is severely limited with British Airways and Ryanair having already cancelled hundreds of flights. The borders with Austria, France, Denmark, Switzerland and Luxembourg are basically closed with few exceptions and restrictions are in place on non-essential movement.
- Republic of Ireland. The number of flights to the Republic of Ireland is down to about 20% of normal and likely to drop still further in the coming days. Bars and restaurants are closed and there is the likelihood of being screened for possible infection on arrival.
- Greece. Airlines continue to fly to Greece but the number of flights has been reduced dramatically. The Foreign Office has not issued a travel warning for Greece as yet but that is likely to change. At present, UK visitors do not have to self-quarantine but that situation may not last much longer.
- Portugal. The Spanish border is all but closed except for business purposes. Although flights are available, intending travellers to Portugal are warned against all but essential travel and visitors from the UK are subject to a mandatory 14 days of self-quarantine. Flights from Portugal to the United Kingdom have been banned.
- Albania and Slovenia. All UK flights to these countries have been suspended.
- Spain. Many flights to Spain have been cancelled or suspended and UK visitors in Spain have been advised to leave as soon as possible.
- Turkey. All flights to the United Kingdom have been suspended.
- Italy. The country worst affected by Covid-19, Italy is basically in isolation with a ban on flights coming into and leaving the country.
- Sweden. All flights suspended by Scandinavian Airlines.
A number of countries have placed a ban on entry for British travellers with advice for those already there to leave as soon as possible. Those countries include Poland, Norway, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Serbia and North Macedonia.
Keep an eye on fast-moving updates
It should be remembered that although a flight to a European destination may be available when required there is no guarantee that the return flight will not be delayed, suspended or cancelled. At this juncture it is best (and prudent) to adopt a wait and see approach as the situation is likely to worsen before it gets better.