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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.)

One year 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 50 million people out of a population of 66 million have received their first shots and many their second.

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.

To be sure, France, Spain and even Switzerland are still in a full-blown pandemic, with concerns about a fourth wave. 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 open 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 3.13 million inoculations to its 9 million residents as of 1 May and infection rates are dropping.

France

France has not covered itself in glory during the pandemic, reacting far later than its European neighbors. But President Macron is planning to allow most businesses to reopen on 19 May with restrictions, according to DW. Bars and restaurants can serve outside (up to 6 people maximum at each table) and shops and cultural places can open. France’s curfew would also be pushed back from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The target date for non-EU tourists returning without quarantine is 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. We’ll see ….

Denmark

Reopening Day for Denmark was 21 April, when bars, restaurants and museums reopen 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. One million people out of Denmark’s total population of 5.8 million have been vaccinated, with about 150,000 of them receiving the AstraZeneca jab. Denmark also administers the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

Greece

Reuters is reporting that Greece, with its economy dependent on tourism, will reopen 15 May. Restaurants and cafes will reopen 3 May for outdoor dining after Orthodox Easter, the Greek government has announced.

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.

As of 1 May, Greece has inoculated about 3 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 by June. The Irish are 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 will resume, and museums and galleries will reopen. The goal is to have hotels, B&Bs and guesthouses open by June, when international travel could resume,

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 1.2 million of its 5 million population.

Netherlands

The Dutch have not done a stellar job either of controlling COVID or of getting the population vaccinated. New cases every 24 hours are still averaging 8,000 as of 1 May, though daily deaths have dropped to low double digits. About 5.4 million out of 17 million people are inoculated. Still, as political pressure mounts on Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the Dutch government is going forward with a six-step plan to reopen.

That started with café terraces and non-essential stores reopening on King’s Day, 28 April and the nightly curfew will go away. Cafés most close by 6 p.m., so still no nights sitting out having cocktails under the stars. University students will be allowed to return to in-person classes one time per week. All the changes include social distancing, of course, and masks firmly in place.

The Dutch are testing various ways of getting people together even though the infection rate is still through the roof, including a test with the Greek government that has 200 tourists on Rhodes in a program run by Sunweb.

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. One concert –

The plan applies to festivals, concerts, sporting events and business events in the Netherlands that are scheduled between 1 July and 31 December. One concert – 538 Oranjedag, a 24 April EDM festival expected to draw 10,000 attendees – has been cancelled

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’s border with Spain finally reopened 1 May after more than three months of restrictions and border checks, according to Reuters.

Belgium

Belgium will reopen restaurants and bars for outdoor service 8 May and lift a night-time curfew. Restaurants will have a curfew of 10 p.m. and a maximum of four people will be allowed per table.

Switzerland

As of 19 April, restaurants can reopen their outdoor seating while indoor sports and cultural activities will return.

United Kingdom

Other than the Serbians, the Brits have done the best job of getting its population vaccinated, reaching 50 million people as of 1 May, or about 75 percent of the total population. So, non-essential stores and outdoor pub seating have reopened effective 12 April and indoor seating is expected to reopen 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

BUT you have to wait till 17 May for:

  • hotels and B&Bs
  • indoor service in restaurants and pubs
  • international leisure travel
  • adult sports and group activities

In June, nightclubs might reopen, depending on infection rates and the percentage of people inoculated.

Cyprus and Portugal will open to British travelers who are vaccinated. Only eight countries will be on the UK’s green travel list when the overseas travel ban for holidays ends on 17 May. They including Iceland, Israel and the U.S.

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

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