It's hard to turn on the television or look at our phones or computers without being hit with a barrage of news about the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, which as of March 11, 2020, was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). That means that the disease has spread worldwide and is affecting a significant number of people.
This worldwide crisis is wreaking havoc on the travel industry and forcing many travelers to change their plans. Many are wondering if it is safe to travel to Europe. The short answer right now is no. Due to both travel restrictions and the risk of contracting coronavirus, it's a very risky time to travel to Europe. But remember that the situation is constantly in flux and it's certainly not permanent.
Here's a run-down of current restrictions, travel bans, airline cancellations, and advisories for travel to Europe.
The Risks of Travel to Europe
Several countries in Europe have reported cases of coronavirus, and the numbers are increasing daily. The CDC has placed a Level 3 travel notice on the U.K., Ireland, and 29 European countries while the U.S. State Department declared a Level 4 travel advisory on all international destinations. At first, when the cases were sporadic and seemed to be isolated, travel to Europe didn't seem like such a risky idea. But now—and "now" is a relative term in a very fast-moving situation—traveling to Europe presents the following risks:
- You will contract coronavirus, become ill, and possibly need to be hospitalized in a foreign country. While European nations generally have excellent healthcare systems, their resources are being overrun as a result of the testing and treatment required for coronavirus patients.
- You will contract coronavirus, show no symptoms, and unwittingly pass it to others. It's increasingly clear that healthy people can spread the virus to the less-healthy—namely senior citizens, people with weakened immune systems or existing diseases or illness. These segments of the population are at risk of serious illness and death from coronavirus.
- You will arrive to your European destination to find museums and attractions closed as a precautionary measure, and even hotels and restaurants shuttered.
- You will arrive to your European destination only to find your flight home has been canceled as airlines ground more and more flights.
- You will be in Europe when the U.S. or your home country enacts a travel ban on all travelers entering from Europe.
Travel Restrictions and Closures in Europe
On March 17, the EU enacted a 30-day entry ban on nonessential travel from non-EU countries, excluding the U.K. This essentially means that Europe closed its borders to non-EU nations. Budget airline Ryanair will be grounding almost all flights by March 24 and 80 percent of flights will be cut between March 18 and 24. Affected travelers will be able to rebook for a later date or get a full refund. EasyJet will also ground most of its fleet by March 24. Other European airlines will be reducing flights for March and April.
The following major European countries have the following restrictions for travel and movement to or from and within their borders:
Italy: The scene of the 2nd largest coronavirus outbreak, all of Italy is currently under "lockdown." Virtually all businesses are closed, as are museums and monuments. People have been ordered to stay in their homes and only go out for essentials like groceries and medicine. After a spike in deaths over the weekend of March 21, the Italian government increased lockdown restrictions. Outdoor exercise, even solo, is no longer allowed.
France: With around 51,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in France, the country has been on lockdown since March 17. All schools, universities, cafes, restaurants, museums, and other nonessential businesses are closed. Citizens are only allowed to leave home to buy essentials, travel to essential jobs, exercise alone, and go to medical appointments. The lockdown has an estimated end date of April 15. Violators will face fines of up to 3,700 euros. Repeat offenders may spend up to six months in jail. The French border is closed from March 17, though French nationals will be allowed to come home after the closing.
Spain: With more than 94,400 confirmed cases, Spain has the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in Europe. The government declared a state of emergency on March 14 which will last until April 11. On March 30 the Spanish government increased movement restrictions. Only essential workers are allowed to leave their homes until at least April 9. This is an addition to the earlier lockdown that reduced public transportation services and closed most non-essential businesses. On March 19, Spain ordered the closure of all hotels, hostels, and any other tourist accommodations excluding long-term boarding houses.
Germany: On March 11, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned a staggering 70 percent of the German population could become infected with the coronavirus. On March 16, the country restricted border crossings to five neighboring nations (Austria, Luxembourg, France, Switzerland, and Denmark). Movement of goods and commerce will continue unrestricted and commuters who have to cross borders for work will be able to cross normally. Schools nationwide are closed and German museums were recommended to close their doors until April 20. There are over 67,300 confirmed cases in Germany.
Schools across all of Europe have closed and many public attractions are closed to visitors.
U.S. Government Advisories
The U.S. State Department has issued a blanket Level 4 Travel Advisory urging U.S. residents to avoid travel abroad, including to Europe. Prior to this, Level 3 and 4 warnings were already in place for Italy and several countries in Asia and the Middle East.
On March 11, the U.S. government announced a ban on incoming travel from 26 European countries—basically all of Europe. The ban prohibits foreign nationals from those countries (or who have visited those countries) from traveling to the U.S. As of March 16, that ban has been extended to include the U.K. and Ireland.
The ban is supposed to be in place for 30 days and excludes U.S. citizens, residents, and their immediate family members—they are still allowed to enter from EU countries. Our prediction in this rapidly changing climate? The ban could potentially be expanded to halt all flights from EU nations, meaning that if you were in Europe during this period, you might not be able to get back until the coronavirus situation calms down.
Postpone or Cancel Your Travel Plans (For Now)
Despite the urgent coronavirus crisis across the globe, the consensus among the medical community is that the virus will eventually run its course. Life will get back to normal, and we'll all be able to travel again. At TripSavvy, we encourage our readers to discover, explore, and appreciate destinations across the world, and we will continue to celebrate the joys of travel. But now is the time to suspend your travels—to Europe and possibly elsewhere—and stick to daydreaming and trip planning. Once the virus abates and travel warnings and bans are lifted, it will be safe to return to Europe and travel freely and securely.