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In Europe, Travel Returns, but Not Confidence About What Comes Next

LONDON — Europe’s internal borders, closed three months ago in a frenzy of panicked uncertainty, are opening again. The uncertainty remains even if the sense of panic has eased.

In the delicate global stutter-step to restart stalled economies and save whole industries from financial ruin, the return of free movement of people across the continent is a significant moment — one fraught with risk as new coronavirus infections surge around the world.

France, Germany and Switzerland were among the nations that lifted restrictions on Monday for all arrivals from nations in the European Union or the border-free Schengen zone. They joined Italy, Belgium and other countries in trying to move to a new phase in the struggle to balance public health imperatives, economic realities and shifting public attitudes.

To help people navigate rules that vary from nation to nation, the European Commission launched “Re-open EU,” a site dedicated to information on travel to and within European countries, including quarantine requirements and tourist facilities.

For Europe, lifting internal border restrictions has important financial implications and deep symbolic resonance. Open borders — free from checkpoints and armed soldiers checking papers — have long been at the heart of the European project to build a continent that is unified, free and at peace.

It took decades of diplomacy and the end of the Cold War to achieve. But by the time the pandemic hit, frictionless travel had been a reality for so long — almost 25 years — that it was easy to take for granted.

Then, almost overnight, borders were closed tight. They are opening now even as the virus remains deeply embedded in Europe.

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Credit…Yannis Kolesidis/EPA, via Shutterstock

Of the roughly 8 million known infections and over 430,000 confirmed Covid-19 deaths worldwide, some 2 million cases and more than 170,000 deaths have been in Europe.

In March, the authorities across the continent shut down most travel and public life, cutting off human contact and dramatically slowing the spread of the virus. Most of the places hit hardest have seen significant declines in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Now they are lifting those restrictions as new cases surge in Latin America, India and Pakistan, and nearly two dozen states in the United States report spikes in cases. Public health officials have warned that new waves of infections are likely as public life returns.

President Emmanuel Macron of France, speaking to the nation on Sunday, declared a “first victory” against the virus and said all business could resume this week.

The cafes in Paris are open again, and people across France will be able to dine inside restaurants, not just on outdoor terraces. But Mr. Macron cautioned that it would not be business as usual.

“The summer of 2020 will be a summer unlike any other,” he said. “We will need to watch the evolution of the epidemic to be prepared in case it comes back with renewed strength.”

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Credit…Marc Piasecki/Getty Images

Face masks, once a rarity, are widespread. Traffic is bustling again, with a wave of new commuter cyclists, but the capital is still mostly empty of tourists, leaving iconic sites like the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Élysées much emptier than usual.

“We didn’t have the time to prepare everything,” said Laurent Blouard, 51, the owner of Café Benjamin near Châtelet, in central Paris, citing the need to bring employees back from state-paid furloughs and to rearrange tables for social distancing. “We shut down overnight and we reopened overnight.”

At Café de la Comédie, in the touristic heart of Paris, near the Louvre museum, there was no one inside. The theater across the street was still closed — spaces like cinemas and concert halls aren’t scheduled to reopen until June 22.

“I’m relieved, but clients are missing,” said Yohan Legendre, a 45-year-old waiter at the cafe.

The steady decline in infections in Belgium has led some people to feel comfortable enough to say hello with “la bise” — a kiss on the cheek.

“Most of our regular customers are back, and they want to say hello by giving me ‘la bise,’” said Silvia Mihaylova, the manager of Addict Bar in Brussels. “It seems like people really don’t care anymore.”

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Credit…Sameer Al-Doumy/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As governments try to guard public health while staving off economic collapse, they are confronting populations tired and frustrated after months of isolation and fear.

Britain was among the last countries in Europe to close down commerce. It has also been one of the last to tentatively allow shops to reopen — with caveats.

On Monday, the clothing stores opened, but the fitting rooms remain closed. Bookstores allow browsing, but any item touched and not bought must be put in “quarantine” to ensure no virus lives on its surface. Dealers in higher-end jewelry are using ultraviolet boxes to decontaminate diamond bracelets and gold necklaces.

For the first time, all people using public transportation in England were required on Monday to wear face coverings.

Restaurants, pubs and gyms all remain closed. While Britain never closed its borders, it requires a 14-day quarantine of anyone entering the country, except those arriving from Ireland.

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 12, 2020

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.