By Philip Blenkinsop, Isla Binnie,
BRUSSELS/MADRID (Reuters) – European nations eased border controls on Monday as coronavirus cases declined after three months of lockdown, with German tourists heading for Mallorca and French bargain-hunters streaming into Belgium to buy cheap cigarettes.
Greece allowed more international flights as it sought to salvage the summer season, German tourists flocking to neighbouring Denmark caused an 8 km (5 mile) queue and Italians popped into France to buy lottery scratch cards.
Spain is initially allowing in about 1,500 visitors from Germany as part of a pilot project to begin opening up the Spanish tourism market in the coming weeks.
Hundreds of German tourists, the first to visit Spain since borders were closed in March, arrived in Mallorca on Monday on a flight from Düsseldorf.
They passed signs reminding them in German and Spanish to wash their hands and wear masks, then queued at a distance from each other to have their temperatures read and paperwork checked by border staff also with faces covered.
“Holidaymakers can be happy that the beaches in Palma have never been so empty,” said Aage Duenhaupt, a spokesman for travel company TUI. “But there won’t be parties in the same way this year.”
In a corner of Europe where Switzerland, Germany and France are neighbours, local officials met on the pedestrian bridge that joins Weil am Rhein in Germany with Huninque in France to exchange warm words and bouquets as borders reopened.
The Rhine Center shopping mall in Weil was doing above-average business for a Monday morning.
“For us it is very important. About 50% of our permanent customers come from Switzerland and France. We were looking forward to this day,” mall manager Alev Kahraman said.
The Schengen area of 22 EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland operates control-free crossings. But for three months they have been mostly closed.
Officials hope lifting internal border controls will allow a gradual reopening to other countries from July and revive a tourism industry that flatlined during the lockdown.
The European Commission has launched a site, “Re-open EU reopen.europa.eu/en”, giving information on travel, coronavirus rules, and whether hotels and beaches are open. But it will not be a return to unfettered travel for 420 million Europeans.
In Greece, passengers arriving from airports deemed high-risk will be tested and quarantined for up to 14 days, depending on the result. Restrictions remain for passengers from Britain and Turkey.
Spain will allow no foreign tourists until June 21, aside from limited exceptions for Mallorca and some other islands..
The pilot scheme was authorised to host around 10,000 German tourists through to July 1. Now most European visitors will be welcome after June 21.
Elsewhere, the right to travel will depend on where you live and where you are going. The Czech Republic has a traffic-light system, barring tourists from ‘orange’ or ‘red’ countries such as Portugal and Sweden.
Denmark will accept tourists from Iceland, Germany and Norway, but not Sweden, if they book at least six nights’ accommodation.
Britain’s two-week quarantine for visitors means Britons will face the same confinement in France.
But in the Belgian village of Macquenoise, tabac stores did brisk trade as French citizens queued, well apart, to buy cheaper tobacco three months after prices rose at home.
“It’s worth the effort,” said Nadege Caplain, who made an early-morning 200-km (125 miles) round trip to buy cigarettes.
Photo: A passenger wearing a face mask walks past thermic cameras at the Zaventem International Airport, as Belgium eases restrictions aimed to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, near Brussels, Belgium June 15, 2020. (REUTERS/Francois Lenoir)