The pandemic has already prompted almost a dozen of the 26 countries in Europe’s border-free Schengen zone to shut their borders, either fully or partially, to visitors over coming weeks. Thus ending the right to free movement for many of the EU’s 400 million citizens, as well as tourists, business people and foreign residents.
Despite numerous travel advisories urging people to stop all but essential travels to Europe, many will still be traveling for work or leisure, family and health reasons. That’s if you manage to get in or out of Europe right now, with the increasing scarcity of flights.
If you do, you should be aware of the widening and sometimes radical steps being taken from east to west. These range from airport screening and temperature checks, to blanket bans on mass gatherings, and restaurant and shop closures. Many ski resorts and hotels across Europe are also closing their doors. Schools pretty much Europe-wide are shutting, and many countries are urging citizens to work from home.
In a rapidly changing situation, it is no longer just the worst hit countries that are taking tough and far-reaching containment measures against COVID-19. Here’s a round up in A to Z order of countries where travel restrictions and closures are in place, or soon will be.
Austria’s measures are aimed at protecting itself from its neighbours. The country has reintroduced road and rail border controls with Italy, Switzerland and Lichtenstein. Border checks deny entry to motorists from these countries, bar those passing through without stopping, or trucks transporting goods. Flights to and from Italy, Switzerland, Spain and France are suspended. Gatherings of more than 100 are banned, forcing all museums, theatres, concert halls and bars to close until at least April 4, along with schools and non-essential shops. Restaurants and food retailers are so far spared from the ban.
As Belgium’s cases soared late last week, and health officials warned it was only just the beginning, the government ordered all schools, cafes, clubs, restaurants and some shops to close from midnight Friday until April 3. In downtown Brussels, police will be patrolling the streets to ensure the measure is respected. Supermarkets and pharmacies remain open-other shops are required to close on weekends. The government says it wants to “avoid the Italian situation” with a total lockdown. Residents seem happy to accept at least a partial one, as they urge each other to restrict travel, and work from home, under the trending hashtag #StayHomeBelgium.
Since Thursday, foreigners traveling to Croatia from Italy, Iran, China Hubei province, Daegu city and Cheongdo Country in South Korea-or the Germany County of Heinsberg, North Rhine-Westphalia-must spend 14 days in official government quarantine facilities, at their expense. That list may grow. Travelers coming from 16 other countries including the UK, Spain, France, Austria, Germany, Malaysia and Hong Kong are tested on arrival whether they have symptoms or not. As are Chinese, South Koreans and Germans from all other regions. Croatians returning from infection hotspots must self-isolate. All events of over 100 people are vetoed.
On March 15, Cyprus shut its borders for 15 days to all except Cypriots, Europeans working on the island and people with special permits. That after it had earlier lifted the UK to ‘category 2 ‘, after several COVID-10 cases arrived from Britain. The implications, of compulsory self-isolation for 14 days on arrival, under telephone surveillance, had a dramatic effect on UK flights to and from the island:
North Cyprus meantime is banning Brits all together, other than those with residency status. Check the FCO website for all details. Visitors from several other countries including Singapore and Sweden fall into Category 3, self-monitoring for symptoms.
From midnight Sunday, the country is closed to tourists. Czechs and foreigners with residency and work visas are also banned from traveling to high-risk countries, as it tightens its borders under a 30-day state of emergency. Tourists are allowed to leave. As are students. The US Embassy in Prague says long-term residents who need to travel abroad during the state of emergency, and plan to travel to a banned country, “will be turned around at the airport or land border crossing.” For now air-transit is not covered by the ban, leaving the possibility of transiting through one of the banned countries. “This is subject to change. Transit by land is banned,” the embassy advises.
The decisive move comes after Czechs returned from skiing holidays in the Italian Alps a fortnight ago, carrying with them the country’s first cases of coronavirus. The government is also limiting restaurant opening hours (6 a.m 8 p.m). Gyms, swimming pools, clubs and libraries are closed. Food stores, pharmacies and petrol stations stay open.
“Anyone whose travel to Estonia from risk areas faces self-isolation for 14 days, effective from Monday, 16 March,” says Visit Estonia. Tourists from Belgium, Denmark, Norway and Sweden were added to the risk zones Friday as the government declares an emergency situation. Countries already on the list include China, South Korea, Singapore, Iran, Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Egypt. The state tourism agency says monitoring is being bolstered at all border crossing points, “i.e. ports, airports and checkpoints at the Russian and Latvian land borders”, and health surveillance “will be increased to identify people with symptoms of infection”.
In light of the unravelling emergency, the Baltic Sea country in Northern Europe is recommending all tourists, “especially those from risk areas”, postpone their trips to Estonia for the “health of international visitors as well as residents of Estonia,” reports national broadcaster ERR.
Apart from its national carrier Finnair slashing many flights to cities in Italy, Germany, Croatia and Sweden-and the government advising against unnecessary travel to some parts of Germany, Austria and Italy, life in Finland has until this weekend continued as normal, with no closures or other national measures announced. (Some towns and individual schools had opted to close). This may change rapidly now as the National Institute of Health declares the country on on the “epidemic threshold” reports national public broadcaster YLE-as the number of cases rose fourfold since Wednesday to a current 210.
France is entering a progressive state of shutdown with the Louvre, the Palace of Versailles and the Eiffel Tower all closing indefinitely Friday. As did the Moulin Rouge and other landmarks. This after the previous government ban on gatherings of 5,000 people was reduced to 100. Since then it has beefed up measures significantly ordering all “non-essential cafes, restaurants and shops” closed indefinitely. Hundreds of cinemas, museums and cultural institutions across the country have closed their doors too.
France has not yet made any move to shutting down its borders. This situation could change overnight, with its crisis worsening, and neighbours taking hard-hitting actions. For now, travels to, from and within the country are due to be curtailed as President Emmanuel Macron calls on people to limit travels, and work from home. Transport is still running, but Paris region and national trains services will be slashed by 20% Monday 16, as all schools close nationwide. A few days back officials warned of a possible “Italian scenario” quarantine. It seems to be creeping closer and closer.
If you are headed to Germany for now you will encounter little in the way of travel restrictions, though federal police are tightening controls on the French border in Saarland, Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Württemberg. Police are checking people traveling from France and carrying out temperature checks. There’s another checkpoint for travelers from Luxembourg. Other than that, you might come upon drive-thru centres, which the country is dabbling in, as is the US, allowing people to be tested by swab from their cars if they suspect they are infected.
The federal government has called for a ban on events of more than 1,000 people, which some regions are heeding. This will mean more events and trade fairs will be scrapped, as many work from home. Schools in most states will close until April 20. Most major Bundesliga football matches and other sporting events are being played in empty stadiums. “But experts say public life must be curbed further still to slow the virus,” warns Deutsche Welle.
Greece has stopped short of a total lockdown could be teetering on one. It has already shut schools, bars, cafes, shopping malls, theatres, cinemas, entertainment venues, playgrounds, cultural venues, sports complexes and gyms nationwide. Museums and Greek archaeological sites have now been added to the list of closures. So far Greece has only suspended flights to and from northern Italy, until March 23, but further flight cuts and border controls may soon come. The country’s also closed its borders temporarily to asylum seekers, halting any new applications for at least a month, to “increase the level of deterrence to the maximum”.
Another government to declare a state of emergency, and bolster its borders, blocking entry to travelers from Italy, China, South Korea and Iran for now. Watch that space. In Budapest, many cultural events are being cancelled, and large gatherings forbidden countrywide, as schools close too.
Be warned, breaking the quarantine rules and false statements can lead to three months’ imprisonment and fines of at least $233/€206. Locals too are carrying the papers with them to justify their every move, as police checks become increasingly widespread in the streets.
All but essential services-shops, pharmacies, banks and post offices-are shut. Grocery shopping is considered a necessity, but only one person from each household can go on a shopping run. People must keep a distance of 1 meter (3.2 feet) from each other, even in the long queues outside stores. Trains are operating but some airports are closing temporarily, or partially, including Rome’s low-cost hub Ciampino and Terminal 1 at Fiumicino. Most airports of northern Italy are off-bounds to tourists. Reports of Italians keeping each other company by singing from their quarantined homes is bringing a tear to thousands of eyes.
The EU’s smallest country is imposing mandatory 14 day self-quarantine on all tourists from Saturday. Malta is also shutting its doors to travelers from Italy, Germany, France, Spain and Switzerland; closing schools and stopping large public gatherings.
Norway is turning away all travelers until at least March 26, bar those from the Nordic countries, Denmark, Finland and Iceland. Anyone insisting on staying, must self-isolate for two weeks says the health department. All schools are being closed along with sport halls and public events.
Also closed to tourists, from Sunday March 15, with mandatory 14-day quarantine on citizens and residents returning home. As it battens down the hatches, Poland has set up health checks at borders with Germany and the Czech Republic, and is taking the temperature of passengers arriving by road and ferry. The national airline LOT has halted flights to Italy (Warsaw-Venice/Milan) until April 3. All mass events are cancelled, cinemas and cultural institutions closed. Churches remain open for now, as the public requests more Sunday masses to save people standing in crowded churches.
Portugal has forced all schools and nightclubs shut starting March 16 until at least April 9, while cruise-ship passengers will not be allowed to disembark in port, except those residing in Portugal. Shops are all open, with strict limits imposed on the numbers of people entering shopping malls and restaurants. But the Portuguese, and tourists, are still enjoying the country’s sunshine and beaches.
SLOVAKIA The Central European country shut its borders to foreigners Friday, and its 3 international airports, bringing tourism in the country to a halt. Schools, bars and clubs close Monday until the end of March according to the U.S. Embassy. “Grocery stores, hotels and restaurants remain open. Domestic bus and train travel will run on limited holiday scheduling.” Shopping malls are open weekdays. Only food stores and pharmacies on weekends. “All leisure facilities, aqua parks and ski resorts, spa and wellness centres and bars are closed. The Catholic and Lutheran churches have halted mass services until further notice.”
Like some other eastern European countries with relatively few cases (30 when it shut its borders, now 33), the forward-thinking action is leaving nothing to chance in trying to contain the virus as swiftly as possible.
Spain will go into a national lockdown from Monday morning 8 a.m with all but essential services poised to close. As a state of emergency is declared, the government says drastic action must be taken against a drastic situation as it becomes the second worst hit country in Europe. The move is set to curb travel to Spain dramatically. says the lockdown will mean a ban all journeys in Spain. People will be prohibited from moving around other than to get to work, or buy food and pharmaceuticals. “The government is essentially locking down Spain,” it says. Public transport is not being closed for now.
The national borders remain open, and details of how travelers will be subject to controls, and who will be able to enter and leave is still unclear. The Spanish paper says expect far-reaching measures like those in Italy; major freeways may close, or operate with strict controls and limits. The Foreign Office has updated its warning for Spain to advise against “all but essential travel to the whole country”. The US is telling people to reconsider all travels under a Level 3 global travel advisory. UK low cost airline Jet2 immediately halted all flights to Spain, as well as the Balearic and Canary Islands:
With all of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions affected by the pandemic, the national crackdown will see sweeping business closures. In Madrid, all cafes, bars, restaurants, cinemas, gyms and non-food shops closed for two weeks Saturday. Many other community governments are doing the same, while closing schools and canceling large-scale cultural and sport events.
According to the United States Embassy in Spain, Spanish international airports are requesting that U.S. citizens and permanent residents only go to the airport if they have a scheduled flight. “There are reports that some airlines are planning to reduce or suspend services.” So far, Spain has blocked all direct flights from Italy until March 26. More airlines will probably follow Jet2’s course.
The small alpine country at the centre of Europe has closed schools until April 4 and imposed a ban on public gatherings of more than 100 people until the end of April says Swissinfo. “The border with Italy will remain open but further restrictions will be applied … border controls with other European countries have been tightened with a suspension of the single border (Schengen) agreement.” The government has stopped short of closing down restaurants, bars and discos for now, yet is limiting access to such establishments to a maximum of 50 people at a time.
Turkish authorities are halting flights to and from Germany, France, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands from Saturday until April 17. Italy routes ground to a halt early March. More cuts may be on the cards the government warns.
Mass gatherings are to be banned in the UK from next weekend, under emergency legislation currently being drafted. Several major sporting and cultural events have already been axed or postponed (even the local elections and London’s mayoral race is pushed back a year). The new law will put a stop to all concerts, games and other public events says The Guardian
after many leagues joined the global sporting shutdown. The UK is yet to take strict measures others have, with school closures or by imposing severe travel restrictions says BBC science correspondent Pallab Ghosh, “New restrictions are being imposed on visitor access to Parliament.”
While Brits are being banned from many places, possibly soon the U.S., they are not curbing arrivals. About 1000 passengers a day are being screened at airports, with plans afoot to ramp up tests to to 10.000 daily according to th e BBC. Meantime, travelers returning from anywhere in Italy are asked to self-isolate. Likewise tourists coming from other hotbed countries are expected to do so if they develop symptoms. A Holiday Inn hotel near Heathrow Airport has been reserved by the government for people arriving from abroad.
From this point, one can’t help but wonder if there will soon be places for European travelers to travel to.