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12 May, 2020 19:29

‘Europe needs a break’: EU may open borders closed by Covid-19 lockdowns for tourism as industry faces ‘grave danger’

‘Europe needs a break’: EU may open borders closed by Covid-19 lockdowns for tourism as industry faces ‘grave danger’

The European Union is considering opening borders for tourists as part of a plan to roll back coronavirus-related lockdown measures. But leisure travel will be allowed only between states with similar Covid-19 situations.

On Wednesday, the EU is expected to present a three-phase plan – which has been seen and leaked by EURACTIV – to help governments reopen to tourism, which accounts for 10 percent of the union’s economic output and 12 percent of employment (27 million jobs).

According to the leaked plan, the commission says the tourism industry is in “grave trouble” and without action to reopen internal borders, over six million jobs could be lost. 

Coronavirus shutdowns are expected to lose the tourism industry €400 billion over the next year,  the European Commission said. To help mitigate those costs, countries with “similar risk profiles” will be allowed to follow a coordinated plan to slowly allow tourism between them to resume. 

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According to a draft of the measure, which is still subject to change, travellers will be able to make travel plans based on an interactive map from the Joint Research Centre (JRC), which will inform them of changing border control rules and travel restrictions for specific countries. 

Europe’s Disease Control Agency (ECDC) will provide a list of areas with low levels of Covid-19 and, based on this, those areas can have lighter travel restrictions and not be part of current “blanket quarantine measures” for the Schengen area. 

The new measure is likely a response to some countries already scrambling to create safe travel bubbles to save their tourism industries. 

Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s chancellor, has already announced plans to allow visitors from countries he deems safe from the virus, such as Germany and the Czech Republic. Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia are also opening their borders to one another on May 15. 

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Such bilateral agreements are becoming increasingly common, with Greece’s tourism minister Harry Theoharis announcing on Tuesday that, if progress is not made by the EU on Wednesday, his country will begin separate talks with other countries about opening their borders to each other. 

New border measures will also address those who planned to travel before the pandemic hit and had to cancel trips. Despite some EU states requesting no cash reimbursements be offered in order to relieve some pressure on airlines and the hospitality industry, the draft states the option will be up to consumers as to whether they receive travel vouchers or a full refund – the option of a full refund being the law under current EU guidelines. 

Over one and a half million confirmed cases of the coronavirus have been reported in Europe and over 150,000 deaths, according to the ECDC, with some of the hardest hit countries being Spain, Italy, and Germany.

Italy and Spain have begun seeing a downward trend in their Covid-19 numbers, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel was previously optimistic about flattening the curve in Germany. She has, however, expressed caution to citizens in recent days to remain alert and keep following social distancing guidelines to keep the rate of new coronavirus cases low.

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