Italy opens borders ahead of neighbors, beckoning tourists

Italy opens borders ahead of neighbors, beckoning tourists

Germany and France both plan on lifting travel warnings for European countries from June 15, Austria to end border checks with all neighbors but Italy

Andrea Monti hugs his girlfriend Katherina Scherf who just arrived from Duesseldorf, Germany at Rome's Fiumicino airport on June 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Andrea Monti hugs his girlfriend Katherina Scherf who just arrived from Duesseldorf, Germany at Rome's Fiumicino airport on June 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport sprang back to life Wednesday as Italy opened regional and international borders in the final phase of easing its long coronavirus lockdown, but it was still an open question how other nations would accept Italian visitors.

European nations among the hardest hit by the outbreak have mostly flattened out infection curves and turned to the task of balancing economic recovery against the risk of a second wave of cases. Across the globe, nations are cautiously reopening schools, businesses and returning to life after months of quarantine.

Families and loved ones separated by the global pandemic could finally reunite, but normalcy was a long way off.

Italy is the first European country to fully open its international borders, dropping the 14-day quarantine requirement for visitors. But most European nations see Italy’s move — which aims to boost its collapsed yet critical tourism industry — as premature. Many of them are moving to open only on June 15 — and some even much later than that.

People wait at the check in for a flight at Rome’s Fiumicino airport on June 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Who gets to go where in Europe this summer is shaping up to be determined by where you live, what passport you carry and how hard hit your region has been during the pandemic.

At Rome’s international airport, Andrea Monti embraced his girlfriend, Katherina Scherf, in an emotional reunion as she arrived from Duesseldorf, Germany.

“We haven’t seen each other since before the pandemic,” Monti said.

Still, the airport remained lightly used even though Italy’s national holiday on Tuesday normally kicks off the summer domestic tourism season. It was scheduled to handle several thousand passengers on Wednesday, compared to 110,00 passengers on the same day last year.

Tourism accounts for 13 percent of Italy’s GDP and officials are keen to reassure visitors they will be safe.

But with health experts warning over reopening too quickly, some fear foreign visitors may be reluctant to travel.

“I don’t think we’ll see any foreign tourists really until the end of August or even September. Who’s going to come? No one from South America, China or the US,” said Mimmo Burgio, a cafe owner near Rome’s Colosseum.

Italy also resumed high-speed train service between regions for the first time since the lockdown in early March, checking departing passengers’ temperatures as they accessed the tracks.

International flights were only expected to resume in three main cities — Milan, Rome and Naples — and some of Italy’s neighbors are not yet ready to lift travel restrictions there.

Europe-wide, rules on cross-border travel were a patchwork of regulations if not a complete mishmash.

Germany said Wednesday that it plans to lift a travel warning for European countries from June 15, but it may still advise against travel in some cases, for example to Britain if quarantine rules there remain.

“This decision raises great hope and expectations but I want to say again: travel warnings are not travel bans, and travel advice is not an invitation to travel,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas cautioned Wednesday.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas addresses the media in Berlin, Germany on June 3, 2020. (Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP)

Germany issued a warning against all nonessential foreign travel in March.

The aim is to change that for Germany’s 26 European Union partners, other countries outside the EU that are part of Europe’s passport-free Schengen travel area and Britain.

Austria said it is ending border checks with all its neighbors except for Italy, due to lingering concerns about coronavirus infections there, particularly hard-hit Lombardy. Italy’s neighbor, France, also is looking at opening its borders on June 15 — although French citizens who cross over in the meantime are no longer subject to quarantines upon their return.

The British government was confirming plans Wednesday to impose a 14-day quarantine for people arriving in the country starting next week, despite pleas from the travel industry to drop the idea and criticism from others that the move comes way to late to tamp down the country’s coronavirus outbreak.

Britain has seen nearly 39,500 deaths linked to the virus, the highest death toll in Europe and second-highest in the world after the United States and is still advising against non-essential travel.

Europe overall has seen 175,000 deaths in the pandemic.

London City Airport announced it would reopen at the end of June, with domestic services first and international flights expected to follow in early July.

A passenger wearing a gas mask and a full protective suit arrives from London at the Barcelona airport, Spain, on May 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Britain is also talking to other countries about setting up “air bridges” that would allow certain countries or regions to be exempted from quarantine rules. British tourists make up a large portion of visitors to Spain and Portugal.

Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva told the BBC that diplomats from the UK and Portugal “will work together in order to guarantee that British tourists coming to Portugal would not be subjected on their return to England to any kind of quarantine.”

Ukraine will restart domestic and international flights in June, officials announced Wednesday, as the country continues to ease lockdown measures.

“From June 5, we will launch domestic flights, and international flights from June 15,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said at a government meeting.

Ukraine sealed its borders and grounded regular flights in mid-March.

The ex-Soviet country is “actively negotiating” with other countries to restore air links, Infrastructure Minister Vladyslav Krykliy said in a statement.

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