The vacation lights are going out all over Europe.
Just weeks after many countries opened their borders to travelers within the continent, some have been closing again, often at such short notice that people are left scrambling to get home before quarantine orders are put in place.
Such confusion, often coupled with acrimony and threats of reprisals from countries who feel unfairly added to so-called “red lists” of Covid-19 unsafe destinations, looks set to undermine efforts to salvage Europe’s vital summer tourism economy well before the warm sunshine months have cooled into winter.
A week after Croatia was removed from the UK’s safe list, potentially blocking tens of thousands of British tourists from enjoying the sparkling blue waters and pretty islands of the Dalmatian coast, Switzerland has become the latest casualty.
From Saturday August 29 at 0400 GMT, anyone arriving in the UK from the mountainous country will be subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
The decision was announced after 300 new Covid-19 cases were reported in Switzerland, which welcomed 1.6 million Britons in 2019, within a 24-hour period.
The Czech Republic, which saw a 25% increase over three weeks has also been added to the UK’s “red” list, along with the Caribbean island of Jamaica, where weekly cases per 100,000 increased from 4.3 to 20.8, the equivalent of 382%, in just seven days.
A British man whose wedding was scheduled to take place in Prague on Saturday was among those affected by the UK government’s decision.
Oliver, 38, who wished to be referred to only by his first name, told the PA Media news agency that many of his family and friends had to fly home and miss the ceremony to avoid two weeks of quarantine.
“I’m down about 30 guests and my little sister, who is a bridesmaid, is distraught at having to fly home tonight before the wedding (she is a teacher),” he said.
These latest travel changes come just weeks after Croatia was red-listed, by Slovenia, its second largest tourist nationality, and Austria.
Belgium recently added Malta to its higher risk list, along with Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, Bulgaria and the UK. Norway has added a number of destinations including Greece, Ireland, and Austria.
France was added to the UK’s unsafe list earlier this month, prompting yowls of protest both from the legions of British vacationers who see sojourning in their neighbor as an annual rite of summer, but also from French authorities who threatened reciprocal quarantine measure on arrivals from the UK.
As a result, many holidaymakers traveling between Europe’s once wide-open internal borders must now decide whether to postpone, cancel, or go ahead with their trips and resign themselves to two weeks of self-isolating on their return.
Meanwhile destinations buoyed by a resurgence of tourists now find themselves back at square one.
It’s a far cry from the excitement the news the European Union was throwing open its doors in July brought about.
A list of “safe” destinations from outside the bloc was soon drawn up, while various countries began opening up their borders to each other, such as the UK, which arranged “travel corridors” between England, Wales and Northern Ireland and destinations including Spain, Germany and France.
Of course, the guidelines were always “subject to change,” but no-one could’ve predicted quite how soon, and how often they’d be altered in the weeks that followed.
One of the first major U-turns came a few weeks later, when the UK removed Spain from its list of safe destinations due to rising infection rates, a move that prompted panic among some tourists and condemnation from Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who called the move “unjust.”
“We’re seeing governments fall back on quarantine measures as a way of tackling coronavirus,” explains Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy The PC Agency and previous member of the Quash Quarantine campaign group, which earlier tried to pressure the UK government into lifting blanket restrictions on all UK arrivals.
“And it’s not the answer, because it stops people traveling. It stops growth returning.”
Authorities have also warned of more uncertainty to come. Grant Shapps, the UK’s transport minister, who was caught out by shifting quarantine rules while vacationing in Spain, on Thursday said all travel windows were subject to sudden closure.
“Only travel if you are content to unexpectedly 14-day quarantine if required (I speak from experience!),” he said, via Twitter.
Although the decision to add or remove a country from quarantine travel lists is based on infection rates collected by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, it ultimately means a blanket ban is imposed on an entire destination, including regions only marginally impacted by the virus.
For example, the UK’s decision to reinstate its mandatory two-week