The reopening of several countries to tourism from abroad has slowly been contributing to a spike in cases of COVID-19 infection across Europe, and this opening of air corridors seemingly has not so far succeeded in bringing with it the hoped for economic outcome.
Several EU countries are now moving to control outbreaks in tourist hotspots, also working to limit the effects when tourists return home, with quarantine periods and tests being done on those who return from vacation in some cases.
This comes as United Kingdom imposed quarantines on those who return from some countries it considers to be at risk, including Portugal and, since Sunday, Spain. This approach of choosing whole countries rather than regions has been highly criticized by tourism-dependent regions, with many places boasting a better epidemiological situation than the United Kingdom.
Many European countries have taken measures for individual zones and not for whole countries: Belgium, for example, has added more zones in the United Kingdom, Poland and Austria to the "orange level", which implies a test on arrival or quarantine. Why is the UK so unwilling to budge from its position in this regard?
In Spain, the director of the Centre for the Coordination of Health Alerts and Emergencies, Fernando Simón, said, regarding the quarantine recently imposed by London (and Brussels) on those returning from Spain: “From a health point of view, it benefits us that they don't come. Lowers our risk”, he declared.
The worsening of the epidemiological situation led to more strict measures in the Iberian country, for example in Madrid, which this Tuesday adopted the mandatory use of masks in all public spaces, including outdoors (which was already the rule of thumb in other parts of the country, the only exception being the Canary Islands).
The choice between maintaining a better health situation and opening a country up more to tourism does not have a simple answer, as seen in the Greek case.
The country has had a very favourable epidemiological situation, with few cases and little lethality, thus presenting itself as a safe destination. “We knew that with the opening of the borders, we would have a partial increase in cases”, acknowledged the Minister of Health, Vassilis Kikilias, quoted by the online newspaper Politico.
"But the economy and tourism have to survive." Many of the new infections have been detected in tourists, either among those who take a test on arrival, or among those who show symptoms already during their holidays. The problem is that this disadvantage that everyone knew would exist in terms of infections is not being outweighed by the expected economic advantage.
Savvas Pagonakis, who owns a hotel in Rhodes, told Politico that some hotels still started by having around 30% of bookings, but that number has halved. Flights have also declined. The industry warns of a “lost summer”, much like here in the Algarve, and this is despite being on nearly all EU countries’ safe travel lists.
However, as Pagonakis says, the choice is "between the virus and hunger". Athens has announced that it will reopen the country to cruises: as of Saturday, Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis said this Tuesday. However, representatives of the sector are saying that it will be difficult to have everything ready to comply with European rules so soon, and that they believe that it will take another month for everything to be up to the necessary standard.
It’s no secret that global tourism is being severely affected by the pandemic - between January and May alone, this industry lost $320 billion in profit, according to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), that is, a loss “three times greater than the of the global financial crisis in 2009”.
The high season would hopefully save the sector partly, but growing infections are still hampering this timid start to recovery.
In Germany, Health Minister Jens Spahn announced that it will be mandatory for anyone arriving from places considered to be ‘at risk’ to take a test on arrival, a measure that will take effect next week.
The country is concerned about the increase in cases of infection, with the president of the Robert Koch Institute, Lothar Wieler, giving a press conference showing he was "very concerned" about the increase in cases, saying that Germans are becoming "negligent" in compliance with the rules of physical distancing, hygiene, and wearing masks.
And outside of Europe similar stories are arising. Vietnam, a case seen as exemplary in the management of the coronavirus with zero deaths from the virus (and only 400 confirmed cases of infection), carried out an operation to remove 80 thousand tourists from Da Nang, a popular holiday destination that the country has promoted to its internal tourist market. The recent cases of infection in Da Nang are the first to be detected in the country since April.