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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - As the European Union moved to re-open its borders to tourists this week, mixed messages, queues and chaos followed as inconsistencies and double standards became apparent in national coronavirus responses.
Since Monday, travellers have been able to move freely between most of the 22 EU countries in the Schengen area, but some, including Spain, have decided to keep restrictions in place.
European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson has urged Schengen members to lift as many restrictions as possible to allow summer holidays to restart in July.
Unlike other members of the EU, Spain has said it will not allow any foreign visitors until June 21.
This includes visitors from Britain, which has left the EU, but Spain’s Foreign Minister, Arancha González Laya, said on Tuesday that her country was considering introducing a quarantine rule for Britons when it re-opens its borders.
Spain’s move was in response to a similar policy introduced last week by the UK. France will also maintain a quarantine policy for British travellers in response to the measures.
"We will be in a dialogue with the UK to see whether or not we should be introducing reciprocity as they have different measures than the rest of the European Union," Ms Laya told the BBC on Tuesday.
Both Spain and Britain have been hit hard by the pandemic, with Covid-19 claiming about 42,000 lives in the UK and close to 27,000 in Spain. Britain has the third highest coronavirus death toll after Brazil and the United States.
Sweden is the only EU country to have adopted the controversial herd-immunity strategy in which stringent lockdown measures have not been imposed, allowing the virus to spread to at least 60 per cent of the population who then build up immunity to it.
Although all Europeans are welcome in Sweden, it is not reciprocal given the country’s coronavirus strategy and high death rate.
Britons also remain barred from visiting some other EU countries that had opened their borders to other members of the bloc.
EU members may feel vindicated after New Zealand ended on Tuesday its 24-day streak of no new coronavirus cases. The two new cases are women from the same family, both of whom had travelled from the UK and were given special permission to visit a grieving parent.
Greece has extended the ban on UK arrivals for another two weeks. After Greece opened its borders yesterday, long queues of cars formed at Bulgaria’s Makaza and Kulata checkpoints on the Greek border.
Tourism and travel executives are outraged that the UK has refused to take part in an EU-led data-sharing project to reboot tourism as lockdowns lift.
The European Commission launched an app and a website that allows travellers to view real-time information about coronavirus rules and infection rates in each country. The information includes border policies, transport options and health and safety measures, such as the wearing of face masks.
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy the PC Agency, told The Guardian that the UK side-stepping the platform meant it gave the impression the country was “closed for business”.
“Not providing information about how visitors can easily travel around the UK is worrying because it shows a country that wishes to be isolated,” he said.
“In the coronavirus crisis, countries have to be as open and communicative as possible about what visitors can see and expect to do, so I would urge the UK to reconsider.”
A fresh outbreak of Covid-19 in Beijing has highlighted the vigilance countries need to take when re-opening amid the pandemic.
Authorities in the Chinese capital have described the new outbreak as “extremely severe” after more than 100 new cases were reported and travel restrictions were imposed.
Updated: June 16, 2020 06:23 PM
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