Is Europe ready to receive British travellers?

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Over the course of the last year, the combined powers of both Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic have pinned a cloud of uncertainty over UK travel into Europe.


Since the start of 2021, the UK has been under its third mandatory lockdown, with instructions from the UK government to stay home and avoid all travel until further notice. Many European countries have also applied their own lockdown strategies to curb the spread of the virus, with some relying on curfews, shutdowns and other mitigation measures.


After Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently unveiled plans to ease the national lockdown, Britons are undoubtedly anxious to book vacations once again. However, the biggest question still stands: when will it be safe for European destinations to be on their itineraries again — particularly in top holiday spots, such as Spain or France?


Let’s take a look at how these European countries are currently handling their fight against COVID-19 by evaluating their recent case trends, rates of decline, vaccination rollouts and plans to reopen tourism.



Widely known as one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations, Spain typically sees an average of 18 million UK tourists per year. Home to some of Europe’s best beach resorts, mountains, art and food, it should come as no surprise that it often ranks as UK travellers’ top choice for summer vacationing.


Spain has also been hard-hit by COVID-19, with a high number of cases and deaths since the start of 2021. In January, Spain reported 900,000 confirmed cases — a third of the total number of recorded cases since the pandemic first began. However, latest Health Ministry reports show that within a month, the cumulative number of cases per every 100,000 residents has begun to steadily decline.


While Spain is not currently under lockdown, the country is under a declared state of emergency that is set to run until May 2021. This declaration gives legal backing to each region, allowing them to implement curfews or apply travel restrictions as needed.


The Spanish government is currently trying to achieve its goal of vaccinating 70% of its population by the summer. In its first vaccination campaign, Spain administered a total of 4.5 million shots — with 1.2 million residents having received both doses needed for full protection. According to Health Ministry reports, 85% of long-term care home residents have been fully vaccinated and around 170,000 doses are being administered per day.


The Spanish government is currently trying to achieve its goal of vaccinating 70% of its population by the summer.


While this means that significant progress is being made, it is still unclear whether these objectives will be met later this summer, when UK residents typically book their holidays. Daniel López-Acuña, former director of emergencies at the World Health Organization (WHO) believes that more doses per day will be needed for Spain to successfully reach its vaccination target.


However, Spain’s tourism minister has also announced a possible plan to introduce a “green corridor” for UK travellers who have been vaccinated, given that there is no collective EU decision on vaccine passports. This would mean that those who can provide confirmation of having received their shot will be permitted safe entry into Spain.



Healthcare workers outside La Paz hospital in Madrid, Spain, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, courtesy of ABC News



France is the UK’s second-most visited European country. With its strategic location, scenic countrysides and wealth of cultural benefits, France sees an average of 12.7 million UK tourists per year.


France has also seen steep numbers of COVID-19 since the start of 2021, with a new wave of cases driving numbers up exponentially within the last month as a result of the variant. Currently, France is reporting an average of 300 cases per million population — three times the number of cases currently reported in the UK.


In response to rising case numbers, a nightly curfew is in place in metropolitan areas of France between the hours of 6PM and 6AM. This mandate restricts residents from leaving their homes for non-essential purposes. While an eventual end to the curfew has not yet been confirmed, it is currently projected to end within four to six weeks. However, according to health officials, “stricter measures” are not being ruled out if case numbers continue to soar.


So far, a total of 3.2 million COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in France, with 1.8 million people having received both doses needed for full protection (around 15 to 20% of the total population). According to French Prime Minister Jean Castex, France is currently aiming to vaccinate at least 10 million people by mid-April, 20 million by mid-May and a total of 30 million by the summer.


So far, a total of 3.2 million COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in France.


Until further notice, France’s borders are currently closed to most Britons (with only a select list of people being permitted). Based on current regulations, those arriving in France from the UK are also required to present a negative COVID-19 test result and self-isolate for seven days, before taking another PCR test.


It is projected that restrictions on travel into France will be eased before the summer. However, given that France has yet to indicate when they intend to lift their ban on non-essential UK arrivals, this is not yet confirmed.



A street mural celebrating health workers in Paris, courtesy of The BBC



While current reports still cannot confirm when it will be fully safe for travel into Europe once again, the UK Department for Transport has reported that international travel will resume sometime after 17 May. We will continue to monitor the status of declining cases, vaccine rollouts and other mitigation measures in popular European countries.


Andy Cresco

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