With the vaccination campaign well underway and Covid-19 cases falling, Americans are now being told they can go on vacation abroad once more. But, as with everything in the pandemic, the picture is far from simple. Most countries are not ready yet to open up their borders to foreign travelers, and those that have are not exactly making it easy.
To give you an idea of the state of international travel right now, we thought it would be good to take a look at a few places around the world to see how restrictions are being lifted or – in some cases – not.
Travel in Europe remains a minefield as most countries are still struggling to suppress their second waves of infection. On Thursday the UK reimposed travel restrictions on Portugal after adding the country to its ‘green list’ just a few weeks previously. From next Tuesday, those arriving back in the UK from Portugal will be subject to ‘amber’ restrictions, which include a ten day mandatory quarantine period at home, with the potential for an early release after five days, provided you test negative for Covid-19. This sudden news has left many British holidaymakers scrambling to get home and airlines pressuring the government to be consistent in its approach to international travel.
On the same day the UK government added several more countries to its ‘red list’, meaning that travel to these destinations is illegal and those coming back to the UK must quarantine in a hotel for ten days. Nations added to this list include Costa Rica, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Trinidad and Tobago. Only a few countries with very low Covid rates remain on the UK’s green list, including Australia, New Zealand, Iceland and Singapore.
The United States remains on the amber list, with Americans allowed to enter the UK provided they test negative for Covid on arrival and comply with quarantine measures wherever they are residing.
From June 9th, however, Americans wishing to visit France will no longer be subject to quarantine restrictions provided that they are fully vaccinated. American tourists will still have to show a negative PCR test beforehand, with only visitors from the EU, Australia, Israel, Singapore and Japan allowed to enter without.
This is good news for Delta passengers as the airline continues to operate the most frequent services between the US and Paris, in association with its partner airlines Air France and Virgin Atlantic. Though perhaps this is hardly surprising for Delta, which has the largest international presence of any US airline.
In Italy the situation is even better, with vaccinated US tourists already allowed to visit the country without quarantining, via special ‘Covid-free’ flights. These services, which were pioneered by Delta back in December 2020, run between Atlanta and Rome, New York and Milan and New York and Rome. Recently, American Airlines has also started offering similar routes between New York, Rome and Milan. However, travelers will still have to test negative for Covid-19 before departure and on arrival, regardless of their vaccination status.
While travel for US citizens continues to become easier and easier, our neighbours to the north show no sign of opening up any time soon. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he is in ‘no rush’ to open up the country’s borders, despite pressure from Air Canada boss Michael Rousseau to do so. The airline reportedly lost $1.3 billion in the first quarter of 2021.
As thing stand, visitors to Canada must undergo a 14 day mandatory quarantine, with the first three days spent in a government-designated hotel. Trudeau has suggested that these measures will remain in force until at least 75% of Canadians have had their first dose of vaccine; a figure, which currently stands at 51%. After this it is likely that the government will implement a form of vaccine passport for both its own citizens and those wishing to enter the country.
By stark contrast, to the south, Mexico has been officially open to international tourists since July of last year, with visitors from North America not required to undergo any form of quarantine. Moreover, travelers do not officially need to take a Covid-19 test before departure, although most airlines and some Mexican states will insist that you do.
Within Mexico, Covid restrictions work on a state-by-state basis, with governments operating a traffic light system similar to those seen in European countries. Most of the popular tourist destinations are currently designated as either orange or yellow, meaning that attractions such as restaurants, museums and beaches have limits on their capacity. However, the governor of Quintana Roo, which contains Cancun, Tulum and Cozumel, has recently warned that his state risks slipping onto the red list, where stay at home orders are enforced and non-essential businesses are closed.
Australia has long been renowned for its strict and effective handling of the pandemic, with stringent travel restrictions now an accepted part of life for most Aussies. The country remains the only democratic, developed nation in the world that prevents its citizens leaving the country except in “exceptional circumstances”. Those arriving to the country from Covid hotspots like India face fines and up to five years in prison – even for Australian citizens.
The blanket ban on leaving the country was challenged in court by a libertarian group called LibertyWorks but the ruling was upheld by a judge this week. According to recent polling, 73% of Australians support keeping the borders closed until the middle of this year. Suffice to say, tourists are strictly prohibited and Australians coming home are subject to the country’s trademark hotel quarantine – a process which has since been emulated by many other nations.
Close neighbours New Zealand have maintained similarly strict travel policies, with only New Zealanders or Australian residents allowed to enter the country as a general rule. As in Australia, all arrivals from outside the antipodes must book a room in a managed isolation and quarantine facility prior to their arrival and travelers from the US or UK need a negative Covid test before boarding their flight.
The New Zealand government takes these restrictions so seriously that it even suspended its travel bubble with the Australian states of Victoria and New South Wales after just a few Covid cases were detected in each region.
Despite serving as the epicentre of the pandemic back in 2019, China has seen a steady decline in the number of new cases, allowing the country to experience a boom in domestic tourism. During the May 1 to May 5 national holiday, China recorded 230 million trips, with bookings tripling compared to the same period last year.
However, some local restrictions still remain. Last month the province of Guangong, which borders Hong Kong, was placed under renewed restrictions after 20 cases of Covid-19 were recorded. Those leaving the province now have to provide a nucleic acid test up to 72 hours before their departure.
Meanwhile, in Japan, authorities are ploughing ahead with plans to host the postponed Olympic games in Tokyo next month. However, there are concerns amongst many in the country that hosting the games will plunge Japan into a fifth wave of Covid infections, as the country’s vaccination continues to dawdle at a snail’s pace. This week, it emerged that 10,000 Olympic volunteers have quit over the government’s refusal to postpone the games.
Despite this, on Wednesday the EU added Japan to its list of countries from which it recommends travel restrictions be lifted, meaning that Japanese tourists will soon be able to travel to Europe with ease. If that all seems incredibly confusing – welcome to 2021.