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Post-COVID freedom (updated): With vaccines, Europe is finally reopening one country at a time

With vaccines, we have a key to unlock the door to post-COVID freedom.

(Editor’s note: This post documenting post-COVID freedom – how and when countries in Europe are reopening – will be updated as more information is available. Because of practical limits on space, only countries that are major expat centers or travel destinations are listed.)

Sixteen months ago, the COVID-19 pandemic was enveloping the world. But only a few countries in Europe such as Italy and Denmark were restricting how residents lived, closing non-essential stores, cafés and restaurants and imposing “lockdowns.” Then borders started closing, air travel halted and basically Europe became a giant experiment in home incarceration, with – in some countries such as France and Italy – people only allowed to leave their houses to work, buy food or seek medical treatment.

With the new coronavirus vaccines, we suddenly have a key to unlock the door to freedom, though some countries are doing better than others. That’s you, United Kingdom, where at least 60 million people out of a population of 66 million have received their first shots and many their second.

European Union officials want all 27 member nations to allow American tourists to return no later than July, and British tourists already are being welcomed back to Greece and other sunny vacation destinations. So we decided to document which countries are reopening and to what extent.

France, Spain and even Switzerland exited full-blown pandemics only in May, with concerns about a fourth wave related to the Indian variant. But as political pressure grows and the percentages of people vaccinated increase, we can finally see the end of the pandemic from here.

Austria

All shops and restaurants opened 19 May along with leisure and and cultural centers. Also, travel resumes from EU countries and countries with low infection rates. Austria has administered about 7 million inoculations to its 9 million residents as of June and infection rates are dropping rapidly.

Belgium

Belgium reopened restaurants and bars for outdoor service 8 May and lifted a night-time curfew. On Wednesday 9 June, bars, restaurants and all other businesses in the hospitality industry opened their indoor areas to clients. Belgium has inoculated about 9.5 million people out of its total population of 11.46 million.

France

France has not covered itself in glory during the pandemic, reacting far later than its European neighbors. But President Macron allowed businesses to reopen on 19 May with restrictions. Bars and restaurants can now serve inside as of 9 June and shops and cultural institutions/museums are open. Masks are no longer required outside and the curfew has been lifted.

Fully vaccinated non-EU tourists returned without quarantine as of 9 June. France is the first EU country to pilot a digital travel certificate. However – and this is a big however – France must get its infection rate under control. New cases are still at about 2,000 per day as of late June – down from 60,000 in early April – with an average of 50 deaths every 24 hours.

About 47 million people out of a total population of 70 million have gotten at least the first jab as of 20 June.

Denmark

Reopening Day for Denmark was 21 April, when bars, restaurants and museums reopened and fans return to football stadiums. BUT, they must have a caronapas – a corona passport proving they’ve been vaccinated or have tested negative for COVID-19 – according to the BBC. Unlike the Netherlands, which also is reopening, Denmark’s daily infection and daily death rates are now among the lowest in Europe.

Denmark is reopening to European travelers as of the end of June, waiving quarantine. Denmark was the first country to authorize a digital vaccine passport. Now, the European Union is planning to offer a European health passport, scheduled to be available as of 26 June. The complication that might delay that is that Denmark has stopped using AstraZeneca vaccine due to concerns about blood clots, according to the BBC. About 3.2 million people out of Denmark’s total population of 5.8 million have been vaccinated.

Greece

Reuters is reporting that Greece, with its economy dependent on tourism, is open as of 15 May. Restaurants and cafes reopened 3 May for outdoor dining after Orthodox Easter.

EU citizens, tourists from the United States, the United Kingdom, Britain, Serbia, Israel and the United Arab Emirates will be allowed to enter Greece via airports in Athens, Thessaloniki, Heraklion, Chania, Rhodes, Kos, Mykonos, Santorini and Corfu. There will be no quarantine requirement as long as travelers can prove they have been vaccinated or can present a current negative COVID-19 test.

Residents no longer have to send text messages to a hotline whenever they leave their homes or go shopping, movement is now allowed between regions, and a night-time curfew has now been limited to between midnight and 5 a.m., according to the BBC.

As of 20 June, Greece has inoculated about 7.4 million out of 11 million residents with at least the first shot and infection rates are dropping.

Republic of Ireland

With one of the tightest regimes of pandemic restrictions, Ireland now has a roadmap to a total reopening as of June. The Irish were golfing again as of 26 April, when historical sites reopened along with zoos and outdoor training for kids under 18 years old. In May, click-and-collect retail resumed, and museums and galleries will reopened. The goal is to have hotels, B&Bs and guesthouses open by June, when international travel could resume 19 July.

Daily deaths and new infections have dropped to a fraction of the pandemic peak and political leaders are acknowledging that public tolerance for extreme measures has waned.

Ireland has vaccinated about 3.2 million of its 5 million population as of 20 June.

Italy

Italy ended six months of restrictions on 26 April, with bars and restaurants allowed to reopen outdoor dining and drinking areas. Cinemas are back open along with museums and archeological sites.

As of mid-June, Italy has vaccinated about 45 million people out of its total population of 60 million. The Italian government has a good COVID information website with lots of data.

Luxembourg

Luxembourg allowed restaurants and cafés to resume service for outdoor seating on 7 April. They reopened completely on 16 May but you must have a current test no older than 72 hours or proof of vaccination to enter. About 500,00 of Luxembourg’s total population of 614,000 has been vaccinated with at least the first jab.

Luxembourg has banned travelers from the UK and other countries, effective 27 June, due to the Delta variant.

Netherlands

As of 26 June, most COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted, with the only remaining measures being 1.5-meter distancing and masks on public transportation and at the airports and train stations. But in our headquarters town of Eindhoven, hardly anyone is wearing masks at this point.

The Dutch did not do a stellar job either of controlling COVID or of getting the population vaccinated. But as of late June, new cases every 24 hours have dropped to below 700 from almost 10,000 back mid-April. though daily deaths have dropped single digits. About 13 million out of 17 million people are at least partially inoculated as of mid-June.

The Rutte government is still promising to get the majority of citizens vaccinated by 1 July. The Netherlands is ready to party, having okayed events starting 1 July, and officials are so confident they’ll happen – and that nearly everyone will have been vaccinated – that they’ve created a 300 million euro-plus fund to cover 80 percent of organizers’ costs if they don’t, according to NU.nl

The plan applies to festivals, concerts, sporting events and business events in the Netherlands that are scheduled between 1 July and 31 December.

Portugal

Portugal’s infection rates have plummeted far below the rest of Europe, and the country reopened 19 April.

That includes:

  • cinemas, theatres, auditoria and other entertainment venues
  • shops, malls and Lojas de Cidadão (citizens’ shops)
  • restaurants, cafés and coffee shops (with a maximum of four people at tables inside and six outside) on current reduced timetables of up to 10:30 pm on weekdays, 1 p.m. on weekends and holidays
  • medium-risk sports 
  • outdoor physical activities for groups of up to six people
  • outdoor events, with reduced audience

Portugal reopened to visitors coming from the United States on 15 June. An uptick due to the Delta variant led to a weekend shutdown in Lisbon that ended 21 June.

Portugal’s border with Spain finally reopened 1 May after more than three months of restrictions and border checks, according to Reuters. Portugal had the lowest infection rate in Europe at about 2 percent of its peak rate and has vaccinated about 7.4 million of its total population of 10 million with at least one jab as of 20 June.

Spain

Spain, one of the hardest hit countries in Europe along with Italy and France, is reopened with partying in the streets on 8 May, the day State of the Alarm pandemic measures elapsed after six months. That’s doesn’t mean COVID-19 has dramatically receded. Daily new infections are still averaging about 4,000 as of 20 June, though that’s down considerably from 12,000 per day in late April.

Still, Spain reopened to vaccinated tourists on 7 June.

While curfews have ended and cafés, bars and restaurants have reopened, dance clubs are still shut.

As of 20 June, about 35.5 million out of Spain’s total population of 47 million have been received at least one vaccine does.

Sweden

Compared to the rest of Europe, Sweden never really shut down, with stores, restaurants and cafés remaining open. That said, there are restrictions still in place under a new pandemic law that gave the government greater powers including limiting to eight the number of people who can gather at public events.

Shops, gyms, indoor sports facilities, and swimming facilities must calculate the number of visitors assuring each at least 10 m2 of space. Retailers must display clear signage that clarifies for visitors how many people may visit the premises at the same time. Large groups in restaurants are limited to four people per table. There is a limit of 500 visitors for shops, sports facilities though for some reason this rule does not apply to shopping centers and malls.  

You can see all the rules here.

 Sweden has extended its entry ban for non-EU countries to 31 August. However, there are no restrictions for people coming from the Nordics.

Sweden has vaccinated about 6.7 million people out of its total population of 10 million as of 20 June.

Switzerland

As of 19 April, restaurants have reopened their outdoor seating and indoor sports and cultural activities have returned. The Alpine nation will allow vaccinated Americans to return 28 June. Switzerland has vaccinated about 40 percent of its population as of 20 June.

United Kingdom

Other than the Serbians, the Brits have done the best job of getting its population vaccinated, reaching 75 million doses distributed to about 60 percent of the total population. So, non-essential stores and outdoor pub seating reopened effective 12 April and indoor seating is reopened 17 May.

This includes:

  • all shops, essential and non-essential
  • salons and other close-contact services
  • restaurants and pubs with outdoor seating
  • gyms, spas, zoos, theme parks, libraries and community centres
  • hotels and B&Bs
  • indoor service in restaurants and pubs
  • international leisure travel
  • adult sports and group activities.

But Freedom Day has been delayed until 19 July from June. That’s the projected date when 66 percent of the adult population will have been double-vaccinated, including everyone over the age of 50 years old, according the the Associated Press. And when all restrictions on social contact will be lifted.

You can read the long and painfully detailed official rules here on the gov.uk website.

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