Europe makes first moves towards reviving tourism

The UK and several EU countries are already finalising laissez-passers as a stepping stone to restoring mobility in summer

4 min
A man walks around the Colosseum in Rome in a picture from a few days ago.

LondonThe need to reactivate domestic and cross-border tourism throughout the European continent so that it becomes one of the economic engines of the post-pandemic recovery is leading both the United Kingdom and several European Union countries, such as France and Italy, among others, to finalise various formulae for covid passports to guarantee safe travel insofar as possible at least on the continent. This comes despite warnings of a possible third or fourth wave, depending on the regions, or the very serious situations that India or Brazil, for example, are still experiencing

With specific regard to the members of the European Union, it is hoped that, despite the doubts that it continues to arouse in some Member States, the so-called green pass will come into force, in principle, during the month of June, in time for the official start of summer. Brussels's proposal is a certificate that authorities will have to issue to all people immunised with one of the four vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency. It will be free of charge and bilingual (the official state language and English) and will also certify negative tests or whether the disease has been overcome.

However, there are still too many question marks and, above all, its success will depend on a real boost to the immunisation campaign on the continent, which is currently very uneven. However, now that the European Medicines Agency has resolved the initial doubts about Janssen's single-dose vaccine, if vaccination is accelerated enough during May, tourism and, as a consequence, many other activities may benefit.

In the United Kingdom, which plans to reauthorise non-essential travel abroad from May 17, covid passports could begin to be made available as early as the first or second week of next month. Potentially, the tool, digital or in print, paves the way for holidays in more than 20 countries that have already indicated to UK authorities that they may ask tourists for proof of having received one of the vaccines. Israel, Croatia, Turkey, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus are among the destinations it could be used for.

"Desperate to welcome you."

In this regard, the Spanish Secretary of State for Tourism, Fernando Valdés, assured Sky News last week, "We are desperate to welcome you [Britons]. We will be ready here in Spain and we also believe that, with the vaccination programme in the UK, things are going quite well, so hopefully we will see the resumption of holidays this summer."

"The [vaccination] certificates will help us," Valdés said, adding that on the very day Valdés made these statements, Spain reached 10 million vaccinated with at least one dose, almost the same number of Britons who have already received two doses. In the United Kingdom 33 million people can already be considered partially immunised.

The freedom of movement for Britons - and crucially the non-compulsory quarantine at home or in a hotel when returning - will be defined by the health status of destination countries, which will be graded on a colour-coded system, from red to green. Yellow will mean home quarantine on return, and red will mean quarantine in a hotel designated by the authorities. Travel to a green zone means no restrictions on return. A first classification of countries will be announced on 7 May.

Barcelona beaches once again allow bathers

One of those already ahead of all these moves is Greece. Athens has opened its tourist industry to visitors from some 30 countries and has waived the obligation to quarantine on arrival provided they have been vaccinated or have tested negative for covid. The pandemic situation in Greece is relatively stable, and has remained so since the outbreak of the first wave in Europe, although since April 1 until now has been recorded almost a sixth of total cases (about 60,000), a fact that shows the virulence of the new outbreak in Europe during the winter.

Start of the de-escalation in Italy

On the other hand, Italy begins this Monday a relative de-escalation that should be extended until July 1. After France, Italy is the second EU country to try out a green passport formula, although for the moment only internally.

Map showing the number of cases across the EU

Mario Draghi's government has divided the country into coloured regions - red, orange and yellow - according to the covid incidence rate. As of today, movements between the yellow zones are allowed. But the decree law approved last Thursday also provides for the introduction for the entire Italian territory of the so-called "covid-19 green certificates". These certificates prove the vaccination status, the recovery from infection or that a test has been carried out and the result has been negative. This can be a PCR or an antigen test.

With this laissez-passer you can move throughout the country, not only between areas with the same level of infection. Certifications of vaccination and recovery will be valid for six months, and testing for only 48 hours. Rome also guarantees that all Covid passports issued in EU states - or the general one - will be recognised as equivalent. Certifications issued by a third country will also be accepted, such as the one that the United Kingdom plans to implement.

France, too

The step taken by France is still, and until May 3, more timid than the Italian one. The Prime Minister, Jean Castex, announced on Friday "that the third wave" was over, and that little by little, starting next week, the internal restrictions would be lifted. In fact, the passport already in use - an update of the covid application developed last year to keep track of cases - is only for travel to Corsica and the overseas departments.

Still, France's average rate of new infections remains one of the highest in Europe, fifth only to Cyprus, Sweden, Turkey and Croatia. The average number of cases per 100,000 in fourteen days is 696; in Italy, 338, and in Spain, for example, 247.