Tourism amid pandemic: Europe prepares for peak summer tourist season

Tourists pose for a picture at the Rialto Bridge, in Venice, Italy, on June 7, 2021.
Tourists pose for a picture at the Rialto Bridge, in Venice, Italy, on June 7, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - European Union (EU) members are easing curbs in preparation for the peak tourist season this summer, but concerns are growing that the contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus could wreak havoc across the continent, especially among the unvaccinated.

The EU is set to launch a digital green certificate on Thursday (July 1) which will allow for free travel within the 27-member bloc if the holder is either fully vaccinated against Covid-19, has immunity by recovering or recently tested negative for the disease.

This comes as the EU on June 18 added the United States to a "white list" of countries from which non-essential travel is allowed. The list includes Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Albania and Serbia.

Such moves however does not guarantee unfettered travel as individual EU countries can impose their own restrictions, which may include quarantine upon arrival or the need to undergo further tests.

Italy, Germany and France require visitors from Britain to quarantine due to a spike in cases involving the Delta variant, which was first reported in India.

This is unlikely to deter scores of British holidaymakers as the UK government has signalled that it is looking at allowing fully vaccinated people to travel without restrictions. The UK recently added Malta, a number of Caribbean destinations and Spain's Balearic islands to its quarantine-free green travel list which already includes Singapore, Australia and Brunei.

Spain, Greece, Portugal and Switzerland have already opened up to all vaccinated travellers, with Swiss Tourism director Martin Nydegger saying the country is hoping to lure visitors from the US and the Gulf states.

"The long-distance markets in the East (Asia) will come later," he was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Europe's plan to open up this summer is long-awaited by its tourism industry which is hoping to recoup losses since the start of the pandemic.

Airlines such as American, Delta and United have all quickly added new trans-Atlantic flights to European destinations while Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair reported "high volumes of bookings" to Portugal, Spain, Greece and Italy in the last eight weeks.

Hotels have reported an uptick in bookings and travel agents have been swamped with requests.

"Every time another country in Europe opens up, bookings go through the roof, again indicating a huge desire for travel," United CEO Scott Kirby said in a business conference earlier this month.

Still, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) sounded the alarm bell a few days ago, saying that the Delta variant is expected to account for 90 per cent of cases in the bloc by the end of August as more countries ease restrictions.

The only way to counter the variant is to speed up vaccinations, especially among the elderly. ECDC data showed that about 30 percent of those over 80 and 40 per cent of those over 60 are still not fully vaccinated.

"We are in the process of crushing the virus and crushing the pandemic, and we must in no way let the variant get the upper hand so that it leads to another wave of the pandemic," said Olivier Veran, the French Health Minister.