Europe’s tourism revival is running into turbulence only weeks after countries opened their borders, with rising infections in Spain and other countries causing increasing concern as authorities worry about people bringing the coronavirus home from their summer vacations.
European countries started opening up to each other’s tourists in mid-June, but recent events have shown that the new freedom to travel is subject to unpredictable setbacks. Over the weekend, Britain imposed a 14-day quarantine on travelers arriving from Spain, Norway ordered a 10-day quarantine for people returning from the entire Iberian peninsula, and France urged its citizens not to visit Spain’s Catalonia region.
In Austria, the lakeside resort town of St. Wolfgang shortened bar opening hours after an outbreak was detected on Friday. By Monday, 53 people had tested positive, including many interns working in the tourism industry.
In Germany, officials decided last week to set up testing stations at airports to encourage people arriving from a long list of countries deemed high-risk — including traditionally popular destinations such as Turkey — to get tested. They will also allow people to get tested elsewhere for free within three days of arrival.
“We are still very concerned about holidays,” Bavaria’s governor, Markus Soeder, said Monday. “My worry is not that there will be one big Ischgl, but that there will be many mini-Ischgls,” he added, referring to the Austrian ski resort that was an early European hot spot in March.
“We are already seeing this in Spain, but also in other places,” he said, adding that German residents’ trips to visit families abroad are also a concern. Soeder called for tests of returning vacationers from risky areas at airports to be made obligatory, something that the federal government is considering.
“Mostly it is the considerate people who have behaved very cautiously on vacation anyway who take up the voluntary offers, while those who are more careless don’t take a voluntary test,” Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, told RBB Inforadio. New infections in Germany have been creeping higher from a low level.
Tourism employs 2.6 million people in Spain and generates 12% of the country’s economic activity.
Juan Molas, the head of a national association of tourism companies, Mesa del Turismo, said Spain’s tourism sector has on average lost 5 billion euros ($5.8 billion) a week since March.
Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto said the Spanish government is trying to persuade the U.K. to exempt the Balearic Islands, which have a relatively low infection rate, from the quarantine rule.
“We’re living alongside the virus. That doesn’t mean we can’t travel. We can, if we are careful,” Maroto said.
The head of the Valencia regional government, which includes the popular Costa Blanca, also said he wanted an exemption.
“The tourist season has already been very difficult,” Ximo Puig told Cadena Ser radio. “We had some hope of salvaging something in August, but this is a very hard blow.”
The northeastern Catalonia and Aragón regions have Spain’s most worrying virus clusters, prompting authorities to tighten restrictions in Barcelona, in a rural area around Lleida and in Zaragoza that were relaxed only a month ago.
Catalonia is facing “the 10 most decisive days of this summer,” regional leader Quim Torra said, warning that it is in everyone’s hands to prevent a “critical situation” from worsening. But he also insisted that Catalonia is safe overall and said the tourism sector “is prepared with all the safety measures.”
Elsewhere in Europe, authorities in Belgium said that COVID-19 cases are growing at an alarming rate amid a surge of infections in Antwerp. Greek authorities said they are likely to extend the mandatory use of masks at churches and shopping malls, citing worsening public adherence to safety guidelines.
And in north Africa, Morocco banned most travel to and from some major cities — including Tangier, Casablanca and Marrakech, usually a popular tourist destination — to try to stem a small spike in cases.
In the Asia-Pacific region, many countries are still essentially banning foreign travelers or, if they do allow them to enter, requiring them to submit to tests and strict quarantine. That includes Australia, where the premier of Victoria state, Daniel Andrews, said the biggest driver in the region’s current outbreak is people continuing to go to work after showing symptoms.
Crossing borders was linked to other outbreaks in Asia. South Korea said 16 of the 25 new cases it confirmed Monday were tied to people arriving from abroad.
The country in past days reported dozens of cases among crew members of a Russia-flagged cargo ship and hundreds of South Korean construction workers airlifted from Iraq.
A tally by Johns Hopkins University shows more than 16.2 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide and more than 648,000 deaths. The actual numbers are thought to be much higher due to limits to testing and other issues.
The World Health Organization said the pandemic continues to accelerate, with a doubling of cases over the past six weeks.
The U.N. health agency’s emergencies chief, Dr. Michael Ryan, stressed the need to “keep pressure on the virus.”
“Every single country where pressure has been lifted on the virus, where virus is still at community level, there’s been a jump back in cases,” he said.