Is Europe Open For Summer? All Bets Are Off For U.S. Travelers

Is Europe Open For Summer? All Bets Are Off For U.S. Travelers

There is some optimism in the U.S. that increased vaccination rates, decreasing Covid-19 rates and the rise of health passport schemes could open international travel up for the summer.

At a time when EU countries are raising borders, however, all the signs in Europe point to the fact that summer 2021 is still incredibly uncertain for anyone wishing to travel from outside the region.

2021–not a rebound year for international travel

There are extremely conflicting views about summer. On one side, the optimists. Intelligencer gave 9 Reasons To Believe The Worst Of The Pandemic Is Over and The Atlantic quoted Anthony Fauci’s prediction that herd immunity might be reached by August and that Covid-19 cases across the U.S. are declining much more sharply than anticipated, declaring that “the summer of 2021 is shaping up to be historic.”

On the other side are reports that the summer might indeed be historic but for entirely different reasons. The United Nations World Tourism Organization called 2020 the worst year on record for tourism but recently stated that 2021’s prospects had worsened. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, tourist destinations had been hoping for a sorely needed rebound but “with vaccine rollouts delayed in some places and new virus strains appearing, it is looking more likely that international travel could be stalled for years.”

Worse still, 41% of experts polled by the UN didn’t think that pre-pandemic levels of tourism would be reached until 2024. It’s a view supported by the International Air Transport Association which said that air travel might only improve by 13% this year and industry insiders who said that it may be that long haul travel doesn’t properly resume until 2023 or 2024.

Vaccination passports–not an immediate global panacea

Many people are pinning hopes on the idea of vaccination passports, coupled with increased vaccination rates, to open up borders by the summer. But as reported by Bloomberg, this is far from sure.

As stated by the World Health Organization, no one yet knows how vaccines will stop the spread of Covid-19, nor is it clear how the vaccines will hold up against variant strains. Digital health cards or vaccination/immunity passports are fraught with political and social obstacles, raising issues of equality and discrimination, never mind logistics.

Margaret Harris, a WHO spokesperson in Geneva told Bloomberg, “it’s very important for people to understand that at the moment, all we know about the vaccines is that they will very effectively reduce your risk of severe disease. We haven’t seen any evidence yet indicating whether or not they stop transmission.”

EU borders likely to stay shut for some time

Australia and New Zealand have both said that their borders will not fully open in 2021, except possibly to each other. Travel bubbles are opening up (between vaccinated residents of Cyprus, Israel and Greece, for example) but these are only–so far–for neighbors, signed into operation by local handshakes across shared borders.

However, this poses problems for the EU, if some people are granted rights to access Europe, which others don’t have–anyone in the Schengen zone can move around freely, meaning that once inside Greece, in theory, people from Israel could travel anywhere. Greece is also reportedly planning to allow vaccinated British tourist makers to holiday over the summer. An EU source told schengenvisainfo that with travel to non-EU countries mostly banned, the bloc “cannot have Israeli and British tourists granted with benefits while citizens of the Schengen area are excluded.”

Spain announced Monday that it would unilaterally act to allow in U.K. tourists over the summer if vaccination passports weren’t agreed on an EU-wide basis. Fernando Valdés, the country’s tourism minister said, “for us the British market is our main market. But obviously since we are a member of the European Union, the solutions have first to be part of the discussions in the EU.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after talks with the EU’s 26 other member states that “we have all agreed that we need vaccine certificates.” She also added though, as reported by The Telegraph that vaccination passports might not be the only way to travel.

However, EU countries have categorically stated that travel restrictions will remain in place during its vaccination drive, as many countries fear a new wave of the pandemic, brought on by the new variants sweeping through Europe.

Many countries are still in lockdown and some others–France, for instance–is heading for steeper restrictions as spring arrives. EU countries are currently firefighting outbreaks in several places. The Local reported Monday that Germany has ramped up restrictions at the French border because of South African and Brazilian variants of the virus rapidly increasing in the Moselle region.

The U.S. was the world’s largest airline market before the pandemic hit but where people can go is a function of the rates of vaccination, not just in the U.S., but in other countries too–something the U.S. cannot control, even if travelers have immunity passports. With vaccination rates lagging and a surge in variant cases of Covid-19, it’s clear that Europe is still far from taking bookings, never mind being open, and it might be that the U.S. is ready to travel to the continent without having anywhere to go.

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