Europe is still the epicenter of the pandemic as it battles a surge in Delta-driven infections. The detection of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant in countries such as Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, the UK and Germany is set to add to the pressure, leading to even more border and domestic restrictions as governments rush to keep infection rates down.
Belgium announced a curfew on some hospitality venues on Friday, following a surge in cases and a recording of the new Omicron variant there. In reaction to the increasing numbers of infections of COVID-19, the Netherlands has announced a partial lockdown with bars, restaurants and more closing from 5pm to 5am.
Meanwhile in parts of Germany, only those who are vaccinated, or those who can prove they have recently recovered from COVID, will be permitted to enter restaurants, bars, cinemas and hairdressers. Further extension of the rules are not being ruled out.
Germany's health minister Jens Spahn has said the situation is now at an "extent that it has never been at any point in this pandemic", while the Guardian reports Prof Lothar Wieler—head of the Robert Koch Institute—has called for "a massive contact reduction immediately" in Germany through lockdowns as cases continue to mount. Other countries including Slovakia and Austria escalated their COVID-19 response with full nationwide lockdowns , following a tightening of health pass rules in France, Germany, and Italy.
The UK has reintroduced mandatory face coverings on public transport and in shops. From Tuesday PCR tests will be required for anyone entering the UK, in reaction to the spread of the new Omicron variant. The measures are "temporary and precautionary", according to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
If you're planning to travel to Europe this winter, here are some points to bear in mind about the latest COVID-19 restrictions and how they might affect your plans.
What countries are reimposing restrictions?
The short answer: a lot. If you're traveling to Europe for the holidays, expect a very different situation to the one that existed in summer. From Austria to Belgium, Croatia to Denmark, restrictions are reappearing almost as quickly as they disappeared. Most affect people who are unvaccinated, but some affect the entire population. For example, the Netherlands has a partial lockdown which has forced hospitality venues like restaurants and bars to close at 5pm. Belgium is also ordering bars to close early and has shut down nightclubs.
Waning immunization, relaxed or incomplete curbs, and a drop in temperatures forcing people indoors are part of the current crisis in Europe, but the wave can also be attributed to relatively low vaccination rates in countries where cases have soared in recent weeks.
Austria has taken one of hardest lines so far, alongside Slovakia, by imposing a nationwide lockdown from November 22 until December 13 following a record-breaking rise in cases. Austria has also mandated vaccines for the entire population from February. According to Reuters, it has the lowest vaccination rate in Europe with just 65% of the population fully inoculated against COVID-19. Germany isn't too far behind at 67%, with public health officials calling for tighter measures to curb the spread.
Can I still travel to Europe?
If you're up-to-date on your vaccine schedule, whether that means getting your second or even third/booster shot, you generally should be fine provided you're not traveling to a country that's locked down.
Typically unvaccinated travelers will find extra restrictions no matter where they go, but they vary from place to place. Within the EU, unvaccinated people traveling between countries will find themselves subject to some testing requirements over the coming weeks as the EU and Schengen Zone expand their list of countries deemed high-risk to reflect the current situation.
Unvaccinated travelers from outside the EU face even tougher restrictions like quarantine or travel bans, depending on where they're coming from and where they're going. In Italy, for example, unvaccinated Americans have to self-isolate on arrival, and they're banned from traveling to the Netherlands.
From Tuesday anyone entering the UK (except from Ireland) are required to take a PCR test within 48 hours of arrival. The test must be pre-booked before you travel and bought only from a UK government approved provider. You must self-isolate while you await the results of the test.
Will I need to show my vaccination cert in Europe?
Generally yes. Most countries will ask for proof of vaccination at the border to bypass quarantine and testing requirements. But as new COVID-19 waves emerge, it's becoming increasingly common for countries to require proof of vaccination to access services.
Greece, Italy, Denmark, France, Croatia, Austria, Germany, Norway and Belgium are just some of the countries who have tightened or expanded rules around health passes as cases surge, requiring people to show proof of vaccination or recovery, or in some cases a recent negative COVID-19 test, to enjoy most hospitality, leisure and entertainment venues, as well as some public services.
Do the new restrictions affect ski resorts?
Restrictions vary, but you can expect mask wearing, capacity limits on ski lifts and indoor venues, and social distancing measures in most resorts. You'll likely need proof of that you've been fully vaccinated, have recovered from COVID-19, or have recently tested negative. France and Italy require people to present COVID passes to access ski lifts. Austria's ski season is officially scheduled to begin once the nationwide lockdown ends on December 13, but it's likely measures will be strict there, especially as Ischgl, a popular ski resort, became the center of Austria's biggest cluster of COVID-19 cases last year.
Are large events still going ahead?
People traveling over the festive period may be looking forward to seasonal events like Christmas markets, concerts and New Year's Eve parties and celebrations. But it's fair to expect some cancellations. Germany has already pulled the shutters down on some Christmas markets, but cancellations aren't widespread yet. At the very least, you can expect enhanced health and safety measures, earlier closing times or capacity limits when attending large events. But as governments try to stem the rising tide of cases and concerns grow over the new variant that has already reached Europe, it's likely more disruptions are on the horizon.
Bottom line: if you have any trips booked, please consult the website of your embassy in the destination you are traveling to for the latest COVID-19 entry and domestic updates. The Re-open EU website is also a good source of information. Rules could be reintroduced or extended with little-to-no notice depending on the state of the virus.
For more information on COVID-19 and travel, check out Lonely Planet's Health Hub.
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